From null community to non-randomly structured actual plant assemblages: parsimony analysis of species co-occurrences


  • Alejandra M. Ribichich

A. M. Ribichich (, Cs. Biológicas, Fac. de Ciencias Exactas y Naturales, Univ. de Buenos Aires, Cdad. Universitaria, pab. 2, piso 4, C1428EHA Bs As., Argentina.


Null community is a spatio-temporal abstraction of an initial regional species pool from which local species pools and actual community assemblages are organized. Any process that causes joint responses of species with similar susceptibilities affects community assembly. Through time, sequential assembly processes change the composition of a species pool in a way analogous to the one in which evolutionary processes promote character changes from an ancestor to current species. The segregation of species occurrences in an actual community suggests that assembly processes non-randomly structured the observed community assemblages. However, going backwards to imply the causes of a particular arrangement of species is a non-trivial challenge. I merge these premises with the philosophical and methodological foundations of cladistics. I propound parsimony analysis of species co-occurrences as an outstanding means of devising operational hypotheses about the assembly of any non-randomly structured set of actual community assemblages related to a common species pool. To explore this approach, I used field data gathered in a suite of 10 wetland assemblages. First, I tested independence of 101 plant species occurrences by a null model. As significant non-random species co-occurrence was detected, I applied a parsimony analysis taking the species occurrences as attributes, the assemblages as terminal units, and a putative null community constituted by all the present local species as the root of the assembly suite. The analysis produced four most parsimonious trees of assembly relationships. These trees maximize the number of similarities among community assemblages that can be explained by the sole fact of sharing a common regional species pool. One most parsimonious spatio-temporal arrangement of species occurrence changes was reconstructed on one of the trees. I interpret this reconstruction in terms of assembly events, species exclusions and recruitments, showing the potentialities of this analysis to formulate operational hypotheses about community organization.