Functional traits and phylogeny: What is the main ecological process determining species assemblage in roadside plant communities?

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Question: What is the main ecological process determining species assemblage in roadside herbaceous plant communities?

Location: Roadside slopes (roadcuts and embankments) in the south (Málaga, mesic Mediterranean) and east (Valencia, dry and continental) of the Iberian Peninsula.

Methods: We identified 417 plant species, from which we selected the 331 most abundant (within the 70th abundance percentile) at each site. We compiled information on 28 functional traits and on the biogeographic range of each of these 331 species. We quantified the phylogenetic signal of each trait for the species of each community and determined the number of functional convergences or divergences over the phylogenetic tree for each of the four situations (roadcuts and embankments in the two sites).

Results: There was a significant phylogenetic signal in many traits, being positive in Valencia embankments and negative in Valencia roadcuts with almost no signal in any type of slope in Málaga. Each trait was significantly correlated with 20% - 35% of all other traits but correlation coefficients were low. No significant phylogenetic signal was found for the species' distribution range in any of the four communities studied, which might be the consequence of the complex mixture of biogeographic origins of the species found in these communities.

Conclusion: The lack of a phylogenetic signal in most traits in Málaga, a climatically favourable locality, suggests that competitive exclusion was the main process involved in the assemblage of these communities. The significant and either positive or negative phylogenetic signal (in embankments and roadcuts respectively), the latter coupled with a significant number of functionally convergent nodes in the phylogenetic tree, suggests that environmental filtering is the most likely process involved in the harsh locality of Valencia.


Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: June 1, 2008

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