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Phylogenetic turnover along local environmental gradients in tropical forest communities

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While the importance of local-scale habitat niches in shaping tree species turnover along environmental gradients in tropical forests is well appreciated, relatively little is known about the influence of phylogenetic signal in species’ habitat niches in shaping local community structure. We used detailed maps of the soil resource and topographic variation within eight 24–50 ha tropical forest plots combined with species phylogenies created from the APG III phylogeny to examine how phylogenetic beta diversity (indicating the degree of phylogenetic similarity of two communities) was related to environmental gradients within tropical tree communities. Using distance-based redundancy analysis we found that phylogenetic beta diversity, expressed as either nearest neighbor distance or mean pairwise distance, was significantly related to both soil and topographic variation in all study sites. In general, more phylogenetic beta diversity within a forest plot was explained by environmental variables this was expressed as nearest neighbor distance versus mean pairwise distance (3.0–10.3 % and 0.4–8.8 % of variation explained among plots, respectively), and more variation was explained by soil resource variables than topographic variables using either phylogenetic beta diversity metric. We also found that patterns of phylogenetic beta diversity expressed as nearest neighbor distance were consistent with previously observed patterns of niche similarity among congeneric species pairs in these plots. These results indicate the importance of phylogenetic signal in local habitat niches in shaping the phylogenetic structure of tropical tree communities, especially at the level of close phylogenetic neighbors, where similarity in habitat niches is most strongly preserved.

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We thank the Center for Tropical Forest Science for their collection and organization of the tree census data used in this study. The BCI forest dynamics research project was made possible by National Science Foundation Grants to Stephen P. Hubbell: DEB-0640386, DEB-0425651, DEB-0346488, DEB-0129874, DEB-00753102, DEB-9909347, DEB-9615226, DEB-9615226, DEB-9405933, DEB-9221033, DEB-9100058, DEB-8906869, DEB-8605042, DEB-8206992, DEB-7922197, support from the Center for Tropical Forest Science, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Mellon Foundation, the Small World Institute Fund. Funding for soils work was provided by the US National Science Foundation Grants DEB 0211004, DEB 0211115, DEB 0212284, DEB 0212818, and OISE 0314581, the soils initiative of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, and a CTFS grant to cover collection and extraction of soils from Korup. We also thank editor Walter Carson and two anonymous reviewers for their thoughtful comments on the manuscript.

Author contribution statement

NG, SG, SB, SK, AY, MNNS, RV, SJD, GBC, DK, and DWT coordinated collection of tree census and topographic data, JWD, KEH, JBY, and RJ designed the soil sampling protocol, BLT, SM, SB, SK, AY, HN, GBC, collected soil data, RJ kriged the soil data, CAB and SWK designed the statistical analysis, CAB performed analysis and wrote the manuscript, and JWD, SWK, KEH and contributed substantially to revisions.

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Correspondence to C. A. Baldeck.

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Communicated by Walt Carson.

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Baldeck, C.A., Kembel, S.W., Harms, K.E. et al. Phylogenetic turnover along local environmental gradients in tropical forest communities. Oecologia 182, 547–557 (2016).

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