Community phylogenetic methods enable us to examine the dynamics of plant community and ecosystem assembly in the context of species’ evolutionary histories. Combined with ecological, functional, and climatic data, we can take an integrated approach to understanding the various biotic, abiotic, and evolutionary components driving patterns of diversity in communities at different temporal and spatial scales. The state of Florida has the richest fern flora of any state in the continental U.S. It is home to 149 species of ferns, including ~120 that are thought to be native. We are using community phylogenetic methods to investigate community structure and trait associations for these species at the county level. Future work will incorporate climate data and analyses at other spatial scales.
We have built a phylogeny for all species of Florida ferns using chloroplast markers, and have used text-recognition and character matrix generation software to build a matrix of trait data for all species from the text of morphological descriptions. Preliminary analyses demonstrate that phylogenetic diversity and species richness are strongly correlated, as expected, across the state of Florida, and several traits show strong phylogenetic signal. We are also evaluating the distribution of functional and ecological traits across the state, and using phylogenetic comparative methods to evaluate whether there are correlations between particular traits and spatial diversity.