Phylogenetic community structure reveals differences in plant community assembly of an oligotrophic white-sand ecosystem from the Brazilian Atlantic Forest


Acta Bot. Bras.




ABSTRACT Mussununga, an oligotrophic sandy savanna ecosystem, comprises distinct physiognomies along fire, water and nutrient availability gradients. Grasslands and woodlands are constrained at the opposite poles of these gradients, with grasslands occurring in areas with poorer soils and higher levels of both water-stress and fire intensity. According to the stress-dominance hypothesis, one might expect the importance of competition for community assembly to increase from grasslands to woodlands. Assuming conservation of ecological niches within evolutionary lineages, this should increase phylogenetic overdispersion from grasslands towards woodlands. To test this, we calculated phylogenetic diversity and community structure using different null models as well as the phylogenetic signal of life form as a proxy of niche space. All indices indicate phylogenetic clustering for grasslands and phylogenetic overdispersion for woodlands. Considering that most life-forms showed a significant phylogenetic signal, findings indicate that competition and further density dependent factors may play a larger role in community assembly of physiognomies in less harsh positions along the gradient, while environmental filtering dominates the harsher positions. Our results indicate that the entire gradient should receive conservation priority in order to guarantee the effective conservation of this endangered ecosystem, including its species richness and ecological processes such as community assembly.

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