Closely related species that occur together in communities and experience similar environmental conditions are likely to share phenotypic traits because of the process of environmental filtering. At the same time, species that are too similar are unlikely to co-occur because of competitive exclusion. In an effort to explain the coexistence of 17 oak species within forest communities in North Central Florida, we examined correlations between the phylogenetic relatedness of oak species, their degree of co-occurrence within communities and niche overlap across environmental gradients, and their similarity in ecophysiological and life-history traits. We show that the oaks are phylogenetically overdispersed because co-occurring species are more distantly related than expected by chance, and oaks within the same clade show less niche overlap than expected. Hence, communities are more likely to include members of both the red oak and the white + live oak clades than only members of one clade. This pattern of phylogenetic overdispersion arises because traits important for habitat specialization show evolutionary convergence. We hypothesize further that certain conserved traits permit coexistence of distantly related congeners. These results provide an explanation for how oak diversity is maintained at the community level in North Central Florida.
- Conserved and convergent trait evolution
- Ecological filtering
- Null models
- Phylogenetic structure of communities
- Species interactions