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Am Nat. 2000 Aug;156(2):145-155. doi: 10.1086/303378.

Exploring the Phylogenetic Structure of Ecological Communities: An Example for Rain Forest Trees.


Because of the correlation expected between the phylogenetic relatedness of two taxa and their net ecological similarity, a measure of the overall phylogenetic relatedness of a community of interacting organisms can be used to investigate the contemporary ecological processes that structure community composition. I describe two indices that use the number of nodes that separate taxa on a phylogeny as a measure of their phylogenetic relatedness. As an example of the use of these indices in community analysis, I compared the mean observed net relatedness of trees (≥10 cm diameter at breast height) in each of 28 plots (each 0.16 ha) in a Bornean rain forest with the net relatedness expected if species were drawn randomly from the species pool (of the 324 species in the 28 plots), using a supertree that I assembled from published sources. I found that the species in plots were more phylogenetically related than expected by chance, a result that was insensitive to various modifications to the basic methodology. I tentatively infer that variation in habitat among plots causes ecologically more similar species to co-occur within plots. Finally, I suggest a range of applications for phylogenetic relatedness measures in community analysis.


net ecological similarity; phylogenetic conservatism; supertree; taxonomic diversity; tropical rain forest


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