Phylogenetic diversity promotes ecosystem stability


  • Corresponding Editor (ad hoc): D. D. Ackerley. For reprints of this Special Issue, see footnote 1, p. S1.


Ecosystem stability in variable environments depends on the diversity of form and function of the constituent species. Species phenotypes and ecologies are the product of evolution, and the evolutionary history represented by co-occurring species has been shown to be an important predictor of ecosystem function. If phylogenetic distance is a surrogate for ecological differences, then greater evolutionary diversity should buffer ecosystems against environmental variation and result in greater ecosystem stability. We calculated both abundance-weighted and unweighted phylogenetic measures of plant community diversity for a long-term biodiversity–ecosystem function experiment at Cedar Creek, Minnesota, USA. We calculated a detrended measure of stability in aboveground biomass production in experimental plots and showed that phylogenetic relatedness explained variation in stability. Our results indicate that communities where species are evenly and distantly related to one another are more stable compared to communities where phylogenetic relationships are more clumped. This result could be explained by a phylogenetic sampling effect, where some lineages show greater stability in productivity compared to other lineages, and greater evolutionary distances reduce the chance of sampling only unstable groups. However, we failed to find evidence for similar stabilities among closely related species. Alternatively, we found evidence that plot biomass variance declined with increasing phylogenetic distances, and greater evolutionary distances may represent species that are ecologically different (phylogenetic complementarity). Accounting for evolutionary relationships can reveal how diversity in form and function may affect stability.