Nav: Home

A new framework for inferring community assembly processes in ecology

June 14, 2016

One of the most fundamental goals in ecology - determining the community assembly processes that have structured local communities - has been increasingly studied through the analysis of functional and phylogenetic diversity. Addressing growing evidence that inferences from these measures are often ambiguous to interpret, a new study published in the open access journal One Ecosystem, presents a conceptual framework integrating three approaches which reduces the likelihood of drawing incorrect conclusions.

A long-standing goal in ecology has been to document patterns in natural community structure and connect these patterns to underlying processes such as environmental filtering, disturbance, competition, and predation, collectively known as community assembly processes.

When studying these complex interactions, ecologists have been increasingly leaning towards inferring community assembly processes by calculating communities' functional and phylogenetic diversity. Unlike diversity measures based solely on species' identities, functional and phylogenetic diversity can describe important differences between species, ranging across ways in which they use resources, respond to, and influence the local environment.

"Functional and phylogenetic diversity can indeed be useful when trying to infer whether a particular community assembly process, such as interspecific competition or environmental filtering, has been most important for structuring a community or set of communities," explain the authors of the study.

"However, it is also becoming increasingly obvious that care must be taken when using those methods, since inappropriate choice of traits, diversity metrics, or null models can produce ambiguous results and even lead to incorrect conclusions about the processes underlying community assembly."

To answer this knowledge gaps, a team of ecologists present a conceptual framework which integrates three approaches to reduce the likelihood of drawing incorrect conclusions from analyses of functional and phylogenetic diversity:
    - testing hypotheses for how diversity measures and ecological processes vary along an environmental gradient;

    - analysis of both functional and phylogenetic diversity in concert; and

    - careful selection of traits related to processes of interest for inclusion in functional diversity analyses.

The new study describes the utility of each of these approaches and shows how combining them can strengthen one's ability to correctly infer community assembly. The framework is presented in the context of identifying the signatures of interspecific competition and environmental filtering, important processes that operate in many systems across different taxa and are most often referred to in the functional and phylogenetic literature.

"In our paper, we provide examples showing how our framework can be used to test general hypotheses such as the Stress-Dominance Hypothesis," comment the authors. "Our approach can also be applied to other processes besides competition and environmental filtering. This framework has the potential to enhance comparability between studies and allow for testing of alternative hypotheses regarding changes in community assembly processes along gradients."
-end-
Focused on the fields of ecology and sustainability, One Ecosystem is an innovative open access scholarly journal that goes beyond the conventional research article publication. Launched in January 2016, the new journal is open for submissions ranging across the entire research cycle, including data, models, methods, workflows, results, software, perspectives and policy recommendations. One Ecosystem aims to respond to the newest developments in scholarly publishing, adapting them for and applying them to these fields. Through the technologically advanced ARPHA publishing platform and innovative publishing model, all data that underpin a given study will be made free to everyone and integrated into relevant and domain-specific global data repositories.

Original Source:

Lopez B, Burgio K, Carlucci M, Palmquist K, Parada A, Weinberger V, Hulbert A (2016) A new framework for inferring community assembly processes using phylogenetic information, relevant traits and environmental gradients. One Ecosystem 1: e9501. doi: 10.3897/oneeco.1.e9501

Contacts:

Bianca E. Lopez
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Email: belopez@live.unc.edu

Pensoft Publishers

Related Ecology Articles:

Ecology insights improve plant biomass degradation by microorganisms
Microbes are widely used to break down plant biomass into sugars, which can be used as sustainable building blocks for novel biocompounds.
Giardiasis may be a disease of the ecology of the GI tract
Colonization by the human and animal parasite, Giardia, changed the species composition of the mouse microbiome in a way that might be harmful.
Investigators chart microbial ecology of gingivitis, periodontitis
Gingivitis, a common and mild form of gum disease can progress to periodontitis, a more serious infection that damages the soft tissue of the gums and sometimes even destroys the bone supporting the teeth.
Winners announced for the BMC Ecology Image Competition 2016
From a striking sunrise in the Kalahari Desert, to a wren's nest built under the saddle of a parked bicycle, and geometric land patterns created by earthworms, this year's BMC Ecology Image Competition includes a fascinating array of ecological open-access images which are free to use.
A new framework for inferring community assembly processes in ecology
One of the most fundamental goals in ecology -- determining the community assembly processes that have structured local communities -- has been increasingly studied through the analysis of functional and phylogenetic diversity.
Landscape ecology's role in policymaking
Landscape ecology is a field that is uniquely available to address with the multiscale effects of land-use and land-cover change and inform policy related to human impacts on ecosystems.
Landscape ecology must play a role in policymaking
Landscape ecology considers the influence of time and space on environmental patterns.
Small but not forgotten: New ideas on pollen's ecology and evolution
Although many only turn their thoughts to pollen as allergy season approaches, a new American Journal of Botany Special Issue shows that a diverse array of researchers are actively pursuing research in pollen performance.
Elsevier announces Rhizosphere, a multidisciplinary journal on soil ecology
Elsevier, a world-leading provider of scientific, technical and medical information products and services, today announced the launch of Rhizosphere, a multidisciplinary journal devoted to publishing research on the interactions between plant roots, soil organisms, nutrients, and water.
New book examines ecology of threatened prairie-chickens
A new volume in the Cooper Ornithological Society's Studies in Avian Biology series highlights the ecology of lesser prairie-chickens.

Related Ecology Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Climate Crisis
There's no greater threat to humanity than climate change. What can we do to stop the worst consequences? This hour, TED speakers explore how we can save our planet and whether we can do it in time. Guests include climate activist Greta Thunberg, chemical engineer Jennifer Wilcox, research scientist Sean Davis, food innovator Bruce Friedrich, and psychologist Per Espen Stoknes.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#527 Honey I CRISPR'd the Kids
This week we're coming to you from Awesome Con in Washington, D.C. There, host Bethany Brookshire led a panel of three amazing guests to talk about the promise and perils of CRISPR, and what happens now that CRISPR babies have (maybe?) been born. Featuring science writer Tina Saey, molecular biologist Anne Simon, and bioethicist Alan Regenberg. A Nobel Prize winner argues banning CRISPR babies won’t work Geneticists push for a 5-year global ban on gene-edited babies A CRISPR spin-off causes unintended typos in DNA News of the first gene-edited babies ignited a firestorm The researcher who created CRISPR twins defends...