, Volume 178, Issue 4, pp 1205–1214 | Cite as

Assessing community assembly along a successional gradient in the North Adriatic Karst with functional and phylogenetic distances

  • Marco Antonio BatalhaEmail author
  • Nataša Pipenbaher
  • Branko Bakan
  • Mitja Kaligarič
  • Sonja Škornik
Community ecology - Original research


Recently, two approaches to account for ecological differences in community composition have been developed: one based on trait differences (functional diversity) and another based on evolutionary history (phylogenetic diversity). Combining them allows an integrated view of processes structuring communities. The North Adriatic Karst is covered by species-rich grasslands, but land abandonment has resulted in replacement by woodlands. This creates a successional gradient along which environmental conditions may change, and different community assembly rules may apply. We sampled 56 plant communities in the Karst and used functional-phylogenetic distances to assess assembly along a successional gradient, from grasslands to shrublands and woodlands. We found 146 species, for which we measured functional traits and built a phylogenetic tree. The three successional stages were floristically different, with grasslands having species that are typical of harsher soil conditions and woodlands with species preferring milder soil conditions. All communities had higher functional than phylogenetic distances, implying that closely related species tended to be phenotypically dissimilar. When more importance was given to functional distances, most grasslands and some shrublands were underdispersed; when more importance was given to phylogenetic distances, only one grassland was underdispersed and one woodland was overdispersed. Combining functional and phylogenetic distances provided us with better estimates of ecological differences in a successional gradient, where environmental filters seem to be the dominant force in early stages and competitive exclusion becomes more important in later stages. Taking into account that sucessional stages are assembled by different rules is essential to predicting their behaviour under future environmental scenarios.


Assembly rules Functional diversity Karstic vegetation Phylogenetic diversity Slovenia 



M.A.B. was funded by the São Paulo Research Foundation (Fapesp, Grant 2014/00421-9), which supported him to present a preliminary version of this paper at a symposium, and by the Brazilian National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq, Grant 200124/2014–5), which granted him a scholarship to write this paper at the University of Maribor. M.K. was funded by the Slovenian Research Agency (Grant P1-0164). This experiment complies with the current laws of Slovenia, where it was carried out.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (DOC 4713 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marco Antonio Batalha
    • 1
    Email author
  • Nataša Pipenbaher
    • 2
  • Branko Bakan
    • 2
  • Mitja Kaligarič
    • 2
  • Sonja Škornik
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of BotanyFederal University of São CarlosSão CarlosBrazil
  2. 2.Department of Biology, Faculty of Natural Sciences and MathematicsUniversity of MariborMariborSlovenia

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