Get access

Trait similarity, shared ancestry and the structure of neighbourhood interactions in a subtropical wet forest: implications for community assembly


Correspondence: E-mail:


Ecology Letters (2010) 13: 1503–1514


The phylogenetic structure and distribution of functional traits in a community can provide insights into community assembly processes. However, these insights are sensitive to the spatial scale of analysis. Here, we use spatially explicit, neighbourhood models of tree growth and survival for 19 tree species, a highly resolved molecular phylogeny and information on eight functional traits to quantify the relative efficacy of functional similarity and shared ancestry in describing the effects of spatial interactions between tree species on demographic rates. We also assess the congruence of these results with observed phylogenetic and functional structure in the neighbourhoods of live and dead trees. We found strong support for models in which the effects of spatial neighbourhood interactions on tree growth and survival were scaled to species-specific mean functional trait values (e.g., wood specific gravity, leaf succulence and maximum height) but not to phylogenetic distance. The weak phylogenetic signal in functional trait data allowed us to independently interpret the static neighbourhood functional and phylogenetic patterns. We observed greater functional trait similarity in the neighbourhoods of live trees relative to those of dead trees suggesting that environmental filtering is the major force structuring this tree community at this scale while competitive interactions play a lesser role.