A taxonomic comparison of local habitat niches of tropical trees

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The integration of ecology and evolutionary biology requires an understanding of the evolutionary lability in species' ecological niches. For tropical trees, specialization for particular soil resource and topographic conditions is an important part of the habitat niche, influencing the distributions of individual species and overall tree community structure at the local scale. However, little is known about how these habitat niches are related to the evolutionary history of species. We assessed the relationship between taxonomic rank and tree species' soil resource and topographic niches in eight large (24-50 ha) tropical forest dynamics plots. Niche overlap values, indicating the similarity of two species' distributions along soil or topographic axes, were calculated for all pairwise combinations of co-occurring tree species at each study site. Congeneric species pairs often showed greater niche overlap (i.e., more similar niches) than non-congeneric pairs along both soil and topographic axes, though significant effects were found for only five sites based on Mantel tests. No evidence for taxonomic effects was found at the family level. Our results indicate that local habitat niches of trees exhibit varying degrees of phylogenetic signal at different sites, which may have important ramifications for the phylogenetic structure of these communities. © 2013 Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg.

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