• Africa;
  • Asia;
  • biogeography;
  • competition;
  • extinction;
  • macroecology;
  • Madagascar;
  • mammals;
  • Neotropics;
  • species richness


Aim  Our goals are: (1) to examine the relative degree of phylogenetic overdispersion or clustering of species in communities relative to the entire species pool, (2) to test for across-continent differences in community phylogenetic structure, and (3) to examine the relationship between species richness and community phylogenetic structure.

Location  Africa, Madagascar, Asia, and the Neotropics.

Methods  We collected species composition and phylogenetic data for over 100 primate communities. For each community, we calculated two measures of phylogenetic structure: (1) the net relatedness index (NRI), which provides a measure of the mean pairwise phylogenetic distance among all species in the community; and (2) the nearest taxon index (NTI), which measures the relative phylogenetic distance among the closest related species in a community. Both measures are relative to the phylogeny of the species in the entire species pool. The phylocom package uses a randomization procedure to test whether the NRI and NTI values are higher or lower than expected by chance alone. In addition, we used a Kruskal–Wallis test to examine differences in NRI and NTI across continents, and linear regressions to examine the relationship between species richness and NRI/NTI.

Results  We found that the majority of individual primate communities in Africa, Asia and the Neotropics consist of member species that are neither more nor less closely related than expected by chance alone. Yet 37% of Malagasy communities contain species that are more distantly related to each other compared with random species assemblages. Also, we found that the average degree of relatedness among species in communities differed significantly across continents, with African and Malagasy communities consisting of more distantly related taxa compared with communities in Asia and the Neotropics. Finally, we found a significant negative relationship between species richness and phylogenetic distance among species in African, Asian and Malagasy communities. The average relatedness among species in communities decreased as community size increased.

Main conclusions  The majority of individual primate communities exhibit a phylogenetic structure no different from random. Yet there are across-continent differences in the phylogenetic structure of primate communities that probably result from the unique ecological and evolutionary characteristics exhibited by the endemic species found on each continent. In particular, the recent extinctions of numerous primates on Madagascar are likely responsible for the low levels of evolutionary relatedness among species in Malagasy communities.