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Phylogenetic overdispersion of plant species in southern Brazilian savannas

Dispersão filogenética de espécies de plantas em savanas no Sudeste do Brasil

IA. Silva MA. Batalha About the authors

Ecological communities are the result of not only present ecological processes, such as competition among species and environmental filtering, but also past and continuing evolutionary processes. Based on these assumptions, we may infer mechanisms of contemporary coexistence from the phylogenetic relationships of the species in a community. We studied the phylogenetic structure of plant communities in four cerrado sites, in southeastern Brazil. We calculated two raw phylogenetic distances among the species sampled. We estimated the phylogenetic structure by comparing the observed phylogenetic distances to the distribution of phylogenetic distances in null communities. We obtained null communities by randomizing the phylogenetic relationships of the regional pool of species. We found a phylogenetic overdispersion of the cerrado species. Phylogenetic overdispersion has several explanations, depending on the phylogenetic history of traits and contemporary ecological interactions. However, based on coexistence models between grasses and trees, density-dependent ecological forces, and the evolutionary history of the cerrado flora, we argue that the phylogenetic overdispersion of cerrado species is predominantly due to competitive interactions, herbivores and pathogen attacks, and ecological speciation. Future studies will need to include information on the phylogenetic history of plant traits.

assembly rules; cerrado; competitive exclusion; phylogenetic overdispersion; phylogenetic structure

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