New and nuanced perspectives to study phylogenetic and phenotypic patterns in plant communities

Submitted by editor on 30 December 2022.Get the paper!

Spatial phylogenetic and phenotypic patterns reveal ontogenetic shifts in ecological processes of plant community assembly. New and nuanced perspectives to study phylogenetic and phenotypic patterns in plant communities. Antonio J. Perea, Thorsten Wiegand, José L. Garrido, Pedro J. Rey, Julio M. Alcántara.

We bring a new approach that allows inferring throughout spatial footprints how the processes can change across the ontogeny of plants, determining the mechanisms that may drive the plant community assembly. But… What do we need to do it? First, patience. Second, hard work. Third, a wonderful team for sampling and analysing the collected data. @EcolPerea, T. Wiegand, @walldarksider, P.J. Rey and @zofairon.

GPS systems and georeferencing technologies have indeed advanced considerably in the last decade. However, it is also true that this was expensive, so our sampling was conducted using the “old-school” way. It means, numbered metal plates for all the studied plants (not too much, just 4798, because we marked sapling and adult plants), and some measuring tapes of 50 meters to settle the plots. The sampling effort depends on your mood, but we were quite optimistic and we referenced each plant with a precision of 0,33 m (nearly 90.000 quadrats of 0.33 m2).

We did this in two Mediterranean Mixed forests of oaks and pines in Jaen (Southeastern Spain), which contain a rich understory of woody plant species. It should be noted that the sampling was worthy since both forests are incredible, from both the scientific and landscape perspective, but it was even better the results that these samplings provided to science. Despite it, this kind of data is quite complex to analyse, but fortunately, we accounted with an expert in that field that helped us by mentoring the author in his research stay at the Helmholtz Environmental Research Centre (Germany).

Hubbell et al. said in 2001 that “whatever coexistence mechanisms were operating in the forest, they should leave a spatial signature that could be detected by making explicit maps of individual tree locations”. Indeed, the analyses of these signatures provide clues about what mechanisms may be operating. More specifically, by comparing the spatial signatures of early (saplings) and late (adults) life stages, we can infer the processes of interest. This methodology may result especially in interest for scientists that study woody plants since their lifecycles are too long for experimental approaches. Our results suggested that there is an ontogenetic shift, where the less abundant saplings species need to be facilitated by phylogenetically distant plant species (as other authors have suggested). However, as plants age advance the mechanisms change since results showed that species phylogenetically closer tend to cooccur at the same place. To see what mechanisms and processes may promote these changes, check the Open Access text here We hope you like it.