The influence of spatial and size scale on phylogenetic relatedness in tropical forest communities

Nathan G. Swenson, Brian J. Enquist, Jill Thompson, Jess K. Zimmerman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

257 Scopus citations


The relative importance of biotic, abiotic, and stochastic processes in structuring ecological communities continues to be a central focus in community ecology. In order to assess the role of phylogenetic relatedness on the nature of biodiversity we first quantified the degree of phylogenetic niche conservatism of several plant traits linked to plant form and function. Next we quantified the degree of phylogenetic relatedness across two fundamental scaling dimensions: plant size and neighborhood size. The results show that phylogenetic niche conservatism is likely widespread, indicating that closely related species are more functionally similar than distantly related species. Utilizing this information we show that three of five tropical forest dynamics plots (FDPs) exhibit similar scale-dependent patterns of phylogenetic structuring using only a spatial scaling axis. When spatial- and sizescaling axes were analyzed in concert, phylogenetic overdispersion of co-occurring species was most important at small spatial scales and in four of five FDPs for the largest size class. These results suggest that phylogenetic relatedness is increasingly important: (1) at small spatial scales, where phylogenetic overdispersion is more common, and (2) in large size classes, where phylogenetic overdispersion becomes more common throughout ontogeny. Collectively, our results highlight the critical spatial and size scales at which the degree of phylogenetic relatedness between constituent species influences the structuring of tropical forest diversity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1770-1780
Number of pages11
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2007


  • Body size
  • Community ecology
  • Phylogenetic trait conservatism
  • Phylogeny
  • Scaling
  • Species pool
  • Specific leaf area
  • Stoichiometry
  • Tropical forest dynamics plot
  • Wood density

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


Dive into the research topics of 'The influence of spatial and size scale on phylogenetic relatedness in tropical forest communities'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this