Evolutionary Ecology

, Volume 1, Issue 3, pp 201–213 | Cite as

Species assembly and the evolution of community structure

  • Barry J. Fox


In this paper I consider the evolutionary and ecological implications of an assembly rule which was derived empirically from studies on a heathland small-mammal community in south-eastern Australia. This rule has been tested successfully against 52 heathland small-mammal assemblages. Here it is shown to hold also for 80 forest assemblages of small mammals spanning a latitudinal range from 27°S to 43°S in south-eastern Australia. The observed forest communities are predicted by the rule and they deviate significantly from random assemblages. I suggest that the unique evolutionary history of the Australian fauna has made these patterns more apparent. The rule is simply stated as: ‘There is a much higher probability that each species entering a community will be drawn from a different functional group (genus or other taxonomically related group of species with similar diets) until each group is represented, before the cycle repeats’. A theoretical basis for the rule is proposed which extends the niche compression hypothesis to cover evolutionary time. Evolutionary constraints on adaptations for diet selection are greater than those operating on habitat selection. Successful tests in North America for the granivorous desert rodent guild and the mixed-forest insectivore guild support a wider application of this rule than the Australian communities from which it was derived. A speculative model is proposed in which the mechanisms involved in the operation of this rule shape the evolution of community structure.


Competition deterministic neutral model niche compression resource limitation 


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Copyright information

© Chapman and Hall Ltd. 1987

Authors and Affiliations

  • Barry J. Fox
    • 1
  1. 1.School of ZoologyUniversity of New South WalesKensingtonAustralia

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