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Ecol Lett. 2012 Aug;15(8):831-40. doi: 10.1111/j.1461-0248.2012.01803.x. Epub 2012 May 24.

Competitive interactions between forest trees are driven by species' trait hierarchy, not phylogenetic or functional similarity: implications for forest community assembly.

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Irstea, UR EMGR Ecosystèmes Montagnards, St-Martin-d'Hères, France.


The relative importance of competition vs. environmental filtering in the assembly of communities is commonly inferred from their functional and phylogenetic structure, on the grounds that similar species compete most strongly for resources and are therefore less likely to coexist locally. This approach ignores the possibility that competitive effects can be determined by relative positions of species on a hierarchy of competitive ability. Using growth data, we estimated 275 interaction coefficients between tree species in the French mountains. We show that interaction strengths are mainly driven by trait hierarchy and not by functional or phylogenetic similarity. On the basis of this result, we thus propose that functional and phylogenetic convergence in local tree community might be due to competition-sorting species with different competitive abilities and not only environmental filtering as commonly assumed. We then show a functional and phylogenetic convergence of forest structure with increasing plot age, which supports this view.

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