Emerging patterns in the comparative analysis of phylogenetic community structure

Mol Ecol. 2009 Feb;18(4):572-92. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-294X.2008.04001.x. Epub 2008 Nov 24.


The analysis of the phylogenetic structure of communities can help reveal contemporary ecological interactions, as well as link community ecology with biogeography and the study of character evolution. The number of studies employing this broad approach has increased to the point where comparison of their results can now be used to highlight successes and deficiencies in the approach, and to detect emerging patterns in community organization. We review studies of the phylogenetic structure of communities of different major taxa and trophic levels, across different spatial and phylogenetic scales, and using different metrics and null models. Twenty-three of 39 studies (59%) find evidence for phylogenetic clustering in contemporary communities, but terrestrial and/or plant systems are heavily over-represented among published studies. Experimental investigations, although uncommon at present, hold promise for unravelling mechanisms underlying the phylogenetic community structure patterns observed in community surveys. We discuss the relationship between metrics of phylogenetic clustering and tree balance and explore the various emerging biases in taxonomy and pitfalls of scale. Finally, we look beyond one-dimensional metrics of phylogenetic structure towards multivariate descriptors that better capture the variety of ecological behaviours likely to be exhibited in communities of species with hundreds of millions of years of independent evolution.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biodiversity
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Cluster Analysis
  • Ecology
  • Ecosystem*
  • Geography
  • Models, Biological*
  • Phylogeny*
  • Population Dynamics