The problem and promise of scale dependency in community phylogenetics

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

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

278 Scopus citations


The problem of scale dependency is widespread in investigations of ecological communities. Null model investigations of community assembly exemplify the challenges involved because they typically include subjectively defined "regional species pools." The burgeoning field of community phylogenetics appears poised to face similar challenges. Our objective is to quantify the scope of the problem of scale dependency by comparing the phylogenetic structure of assemblages across contrasting geographic and taxonomic scales. We conduct phylogenetic analyses on communities within three tropical forests, and perform a sensitivity analysis with respect to two scaleable inputs: taxonomy and species pool size. We show that (1) estimates of phylogenetic overdispersion within local assemblages depend strongly on the taxonomic makeup of the local assemblage and (2) comparing the phylogenetic structure of a local assemblage to a species pool drawn from increasingly larger geographic scales results in an increased signal of phylogenetic clustering. We argue that, rather than posing a problem, "scale sensitivities" are likely to reveal general patterns of diversity that could help identify critical scales at which local or regional influences gain primacy for the structuring of communities. In this way, community phylogenetics promises to fill an important gap in community ecology and biogeography research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2418-2424
Number of pages7
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2006


  • Community ecology
  • Forest dynamics plot
  • Phylogeny
  • Scaling
  • Species pool
  • Tropical forest

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


Dive into the research topics of 'The problem and promise of scale dependency in community phylogenetics'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this