Tuesday, August 4, 2009: 1:30 PM-5:00 PM
Brazos, Albuquerque Convention Center
Michael Stastny, Cornell University
Nicholas J. Deacon, University of Minnesota
In recent years, there has been a growing recognition among ecologists of the potential importance of evolutionary relationships among species on the outcomes of their interactions and the consequences for community structure. Because of their shared ancestry, related species are likely similar in their phenotype and ecology, and are thus expected to overlap in their environmental preferences and resource requirements, or niches. Consequently, close relatives are also predicted to compete more intensely with each other, and experience similar interactions with other species and trophic levels, including antagonists and mutualists. Such ecological interactions may lead to evolutionary shifts in species traits or niches that prevent local exclusion by reducing species similarity, or, alternatively, to community patterns that reduce co-occurrence of similar close relatives. The consideration of species relatedness, whether at the level of phylodiversity of a larger community, or within a single clade or genus, can provide a powerful conceptual framework for addressing some of the classic questions in community ecology. Researchers now increasingly apply this framework to studies of local community structure and assembly, species coexistence, competition, niche theory, functional trait diversity, and phylogenetic conservatism in a variety of systems. Their innovative approaches helped create an emerging field of phyloecology, and improve our understanding of community organization; yet, several crucial challenges remain. For instance, what is the relative importance of species relatedness and ecological similarity at different phylogenetic and spatial scales? Do species interactions within and across trophic levels reflect signals of relatedness detected in community structure? How can we use experimental manipulations to identify ecological processes that generate patterns we observe in community surveys? This two-part organized oral session will serve as an overview of the recent conceptual and empirical advances in this field, and strive for a new synthesis. Talks will explore a diversity of ecological and evolutionary questions centered around species relatedness, and feature a wide sample of approaches across diverse study systems. The session will aim to critically assess the contribution of evolutionary relationships and traits in explaining current ecological pattern and process in communities, expand the present conceptual framework of relatedness to other types of ecological interactions, and connect species interactions and local community structure.