Question: What factors determine the deviations from the relationship between species richness (which considers species as independent entities) and phylogenetic diversity (PD) (which considers species relatedness)? What are the implications for community composition and phylogenetic structure?
Location: Los Alcornocales Natural Park (36°03′–36°45′N and 5°20′–5°45′W), in southern Iberian Peninsula (Spain).
Methods: We recorded all woody species and geographical features on 94 (20 m × 20 m) plots of cork oak woodlands. Disturbance information was obtained from the Park records; precipitation was estimated from local maps. PD was computed as the minimum total length of all the phylogenetic branches spanning the set of species on each site. Then, PD was regressed against species richness to test to what extent the unexplained variance in this relationship could be accounted for by environmental variables and disturbances, and against the representation of species with different regeneration strategies.
Results: Species richness and PD are strongly related; however, the remaining variability can be explained by: (1) precipitation and disturbance, and (2) the proportion of seeder species. Thus, the PD both of areas with low precipitation and high disturbance, and of areas with a high representation of seeder species, is lower than what would be expected from the species richness.
Conclusions: Regeneration traits are important in structuring plant community composition; specifically, they contribute to shaping biodiversity in Mediterranean ecosystems. Species richness tends to overestimate biodiversity in highly disturbed systems.