Multi-scale phylogenetic structure in coastal dune plant communities across the globe

Ane Kirstine Brunbjerg, Jeannine Cavender-Bares, Wolf L. Eiserhardt, Rasmus Ejrnæs, Lonnie W. Aarssen, Hannah L. Buckley, Estelle Forey, Florian Jansen, Jens Kattge, Cynthia Lane, Roy A. Lubke, Angela T. Moles, Ana Laura Monserrat, Robert K. Peet, Julissa Roncal, Louise Wootton, Jens Christian Svenning

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


Aims Studies integrating phylogenetic history and large-scale community assembly are few, and many questions remain unanswered. Here, we use a global coastal dune plant data set to uncover the important factors in community assembly across scales from the local filtering processes to the global long-term diversification and dispersal dynamics. Coastal dune plant communities occur worldwide under a wide range of climatic and geologic conditions as well as in all biogeographic regions. However, global patterns in the phylogenetic composition of coastal dune plant communities have not previously been studied. Methods The data set comprised vegetation data from 18463 plots in New Zealand, South Africa, South America, North America and Europe. The phylogenetic tree comprised 2241 plant species from 149 families. We calculated phylogenetic clustering (Net Relatedness Index, NRI, and Nearest Taxon Index, NTI) of regional dune floras to estimate the amount of in situ diversification relative to the global dune species pool and evaluated the relative importance of land and climate barriers for these diversification patterns by geographic analyses of phylogenetic similarity. We then tested whether dune plant communities exhibit similar patterns of phylogenetic structure within regions. Finally, we calculated NRI for local communities relative to the regional species pool and tested for an association with functional traits (plant height and seed mass) thought to vary along sea-inland gradients. Important Findings Regional species pools were phylogenetically clustered relative to the global pool, indicating regional diversification. NTI showed stronger clustering than NRI pointing to the importance of especially recent diversifications within regions. The species pools grouped phylogenetically into two clusters on either side of the tropics suggesting greater dispersal rates within hemispheres than between hemispheres. Local NRI plot values confirmed that most communities were also phylogenetically clustered within regions. NRI values decreased with increasing plant height and seed mass, indicating greater phylogenetic clustering in communities with short maximum height and good dispersers prone to wind and tidal disturbance as well as salt spray, consistent with environmental filtering along sea-inland gradients. Height and seed mass both showed significant phylogenetic signal, and NRI tended to correlate negatively with both at the plot level. Low NRI plots tended to represent coastal scrub and forest, whereas high NRI plots tended to represent herb-dominated vegetation. We conclude that regional diversification processes play a role in dune plant community assembly, with convergence in local phylogenetic community structure and local variation in community structure probably reflecting consistent coastal-inland gradients. Our study contributes to a better understanding of the globally distributed dynamic coastal ecosystems and the structuring factors working on dune plant communities across spatial scales and regions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)101-114
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Plant Ecology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2014


  • Disturbance
  • Phylogenetic community structure
  • Plant functional traits
  • Plant height
  • Seed mass


Dive into the research topics of 'Multi-scale phylogenetic structure in coastal dune plant communities across the globe'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this