Field studies of community assembly patterns increasingly use phylogenetic relatedness as a surrogate for traits. Recent experiments appear to validate this approach by showing effects of correlated trait and phylogenetic distances on coexistence. However, traits governing resource use in animals are often labile. To test whether feeding trait or phylogenetic diversity can predict competition and production in communities of grazing amphipods, we manipulated both types of diversity independently in mesocosms. We found that increasing the feeding trait diversity of the community increased the number of species coexisting, reduced dominance and changed food availability. In contrast, phylogenetic diversity had no effect, suggesting that whatever additional ecological information it represents was not relevant in this context. Although community phylogenetic structure in the field may result from multiple traits with potential for phylogenetic signal, phylogenetic effects on species interactions in controlled experiments may depend on the lability of fewer key traits.