The influence of phylogenetic relatedness on species interactions among freshwater green algae in a mesocosm experiment
- A long-standing hypothesis in ecology and evolutionary biology is that closely related species are more ecologically similar to each other and therefore compete more strongly than distant relatives do. A recent hypothesis posits that evolutionary relatedness may also explain the prevalence of mutualisms, with facilitative interactions being more common among distantly related species. Despite the importance of these hypotheses for understanding the structure and function of ecological communities, experimental tests to determine how evolutionary relatedness influences competition and facilitation are still somewhat rare.
- Here, we report results of a laboratory experiment in which we assessed how competitive and facilitative interactions among eight species of freshwater green algae are influenced by their relatedness. We measured the prevalence of competition and facilitation among 28 pairs of freshwater green algal species that were chosen to span a large gradient of phylogenetic distances. For each species, we first measured its invasion success when introduced into a steady-state population of another resident species. Then, we compared its growth rate when grown alone in monoculture to its growth rate when introduced as an invader. The change in the species' population growth rate as an invader (sensitivity) is used as a measure of the strength of its interaction with the resident species. A reduced growth rate in the presence of another species indicates competition, whereas an increased growth rate indicates facilitation.
- Although competition between species was more frequent (75% of interactions), facilitation was common (the other 25% of interactions). We found no significant relationship between the phylogenetic distance separating two interacting species and the success of invasion, nor the prevalence or strength of either competition or facilitation. Interspecific interactions depended more on the identity of the species, with certain taxa consistently acting as good or bad competitors/facilitators. These species were not predictable a priori from their positions on a phylogeny.
- Synthesis. The phylogenetic relatedness of the green algae species used here did not predict the prevalence of competitive and facilitative interactions, rejecting the hypothesis that close relatives compete strongly and contesting recent evidence that facilitation is likely to occur between distant relatives.