Communities contain closely related species during ecosystem disturbance




Ecology Letters (2010) 13: 162–174


Predicting community and species responses to disturbance is complicated by incomplete knowledge about species traits. A phylogenetic framework should partially solve this problem, as trait similarity is generally correlated with species relatedness, closely related species should have similar sensitivities to disturbance. Disturbance should thus result in community assemblages of closely related species. We tested this hypothesis with 18 disturbed and 16 reference whole-lake, long-term zooplankton data sets. Regardless of disturbance type, communities generally contained more closely related species when disturbed. This effect was independent of species richness, evenness, and abundance. Communities already under stress (i.e., those in acidic lakes) changed most when disturbed. Species sensitivities to specific disturbances were phylogenetically conserved, were independent of body size, and could be predicted by the sensitivities of close relatives within the same community. Phylogenetic relatedness can effectively act as a proxy for missing trait information when predicting community and species responses to disturbance.