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Thursday Seminar: Trait and niche evolution and the assembly of plant communities
A key goal in ecology is to identify why certain species co-occur while others do not in a given setting. One approach to this problem has been to simply analyze patterns of co-occurrence and abundance of species names within and between communities. Such an approach is somewhat informative, but could be enhanced via the injection of phylogenetic and functional trait information regarding the species under investigation. Phylogenetic- and trait-based analyses utilized to infer plant community assembly mechanisms have a long history in ecology, but in the past 10 years have become widespread. This recent explosion has been spurred largely by the development of analytical tools and to some extent a better understanding of how plant traits relate to the distribution and performance of species. The key objective of this research program is to quantify the evolution of plant traits and niches and how this history influences present day community structure. Despite a mountain of papers that have now demonstrated non-random phylogenetic and trait patterns in communities, I will argue in this seminar that, aside from a few key studies, plant community ecology has not adequately tackled this fundamental objective. I will then discuss how phylogenetic- and trait-based research should be modified to accomplish this objective using examples from my research on the woody flora of New Zealand.
Host: Professor Christopher Dick