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Open Access Open Badges Research article

The phylogenetic signal of species co-occurrence in high-diversity shrublands: different patterns for fire-killed and fire-resistant species

Marcel Cardillo

Author Affiliations

Centre for Macroevolution and Macroecology, Research School of Biology, Australian National University, Canberra, A.C.T. 0200, Australia

BMC Ecology 2012, 12:21  doi:10.1186/1472-6785-12-21

Published: 27 September 2012



Using phylogenies in community ecology is now commonplace, but typically, studies assume and test for a single common phylogenetic signal for all species in a community, at a given scale. A possibility that remains little-explored is that species differing in demographic or ecological attributes, or facing different selective pressures, show different community phylogenetic patterns, even within the same communities. Here I compare community phylogenetic patterns for fire-killed and fire-resistant Banksia species in the fire-prone shrublands of southwest Australia.


Using new Bayesian phylogenies of Banksia, together with ecological trait data and abundance data from 24 field sites, I find that fire regeneration mode influences the phylogenetic and phenotypic signal of species co-occurrence patterns. Fire-killed species (reseeders) show patterns of phylogenetic and phenotypic repulsion consistent with competition-driven niche differentiation, but there are no such patterns for fire-resistant species (resprouters). For pairs of species that differ in fire response, co-occurrence is mediated by environmental filtering based on similarity in edaphic preferences.


These results suggest that it may be simplistic to characterize an entire community by a single structuring process, such as competition or environmental filtering. For this reason, community analyses based on pairwise species co-occurrence patterns may be more informative than those based on whole-community structure metrics.

Coexistence; Competition; Co-occurrence matrix; Phylogenetic community ecology; Phylogenetic conservatism; Regeneration strategy; Southwestern Australia