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Ecol Lett. 2009 Sep;12(9):949-60. doi: 10.1111/j.1461-0248.2009.01354.x.

Disentangling niche and neutral influences on community assembly: assessing the performance of community phylogenetic structure tests.

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Department of Integrative Biology, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA.


Patterns of phylogenetic relatedness within communities have been widely used to infer the importance of different ecological and evolutionary processes during community assembly, but little is known about the relative ability of community phylogenetics methods and null models to detect the signature of processes such as dispersal, competition and filtering under different models of trait evolution. Using a metacommunity simulation incorporating quantitative models of trait evolution and community assembly, I assessed the performance of different tests that have been used to measure community phylogenetic structure. All tests were sensitive to the relative phylogenetic signal in species metacommunity abundances and traits; methods that were most sensitive to the effects of niche-based processes on community structure were also more likely to find non-random patterns of community phylogenetic structure under dispersal assembly. When used with a null model that maintained species occurrence frequency in random communities, several metrics could detect niche-based assembly when there was strong phylogenetic signal in species traits, when multiple traits were involved in community assembly, and in the presence of environmental heterogeneity. Interpretations of the causes of community phylogenetic structure should be modified to account for the influence of dispersal.

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