The merging of community ecology and phylogenetic biology

Jeannine Cavender-Bares, Kenneth H. Kozak, Paul V.A. Fine, Steven W. Kembel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1621 Scopus citations


The increasing availability of phylogenetic data, computing power and informatics tools has facilitated a rapid expansion of studies that apply phylogenetic data and methods to community ecology. Several key areas are reviewed in which phylogenetic information helps to resolve long-standing controversies in community ecology, challenges previous assumptions, and opens new areas of investigation. In particular, studies in phylogenetic community ecology have helped to reveal the multitude of processes driving community assembly and have demonstrated the importance of evolution in the assembly process. Phylogenetic approaches have also increased understanding of the consequences of community interactions for speciation, adaptation and extinction. Finally, phylogenetic community structure and composition holds promise for predicting ecosystem processes and impacts of global change. Major challenges to advancing these areas remain. In particular, determining the extent to which ecologically relevant traits are phylogenetically conserved or convergent, and over what temporal scale, is critical to understanding the causes of community phylogenetic structure and its evolutionary and ecosystem consequences. Harnessing phylogenetic information to understand and forecast changes in diversity and dynamics of communities is a critical step in managing and restoring the Earth's biota in a time of rapid global change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)693-715
Number of pages23
JournalEcology letters
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2009


  • Community assembly
  • Deterministic vs. neutral processes
  • Ecosystem processes
  • Experimental approaches
  • Functional traits
  • Phylogenetic community ecology
  • Phylogenetic diversity
  • Spatial and phylogenetic scale


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