Muscarella, Robert, Uriarte, Maria, Aide, T. Mitchell, Erickson, David L., Forero-Montana, Jimena, Kress, W. John, Swenson, Nathan G., and Zimmerman, Jess K. 2016. "Functional convergence and phylogenetic divergence during secondary succession of subtropical wet forests in Puerto Rico." Journal of Vegetation Science 27 (2):283-294. https://doi.org/10.1111/jvs.12354
QuestionUnderstanding how the relative importance of different community assembly processes changes during secondary succession of diverse systems remains elusive. Functional and phylogenetic approaches that place species along continuous axes of niche differentiation and evolutionary relatedness, however, are deepening our understanding of the mechanisms that drive successional dynamics. We ask whether successional shifts in the functional and phylogenetic composition of post-agricultural tropical forests provide evidence for niche partitioning or competitive dominance hierarchies as drivers of successional change. LocationSubtropical wet forests, Puerto Rico. MethodsWe combined data on four functional traits [leaf dry mass per area (LMA), wood density (WD), maximum height (H-max), seed dry mass] and a well-resolved molecular phylogeny to characterize taxonomic, functional and phylogenetic composition of sapling and adult tree communities along a regionally replicated chronosequence. We used a null model approach to assess how functional and phylogenetic diversity change with forest age. ResultsCorresponding increases of community-weighted mean LMA, H-max and seed mass with forest age reflected a shift in dominance of species with acquisitive resource-use strategies and small seeds towards species with more conservative resource use and larger seeds. A negative relationship between forest age and local diversity of H-max and seed mass suggested increased importance of competitive hierarchies for light capture and shade-tolerant regeneration in older forests. In contrast, the colonization of palms in older forest plots led to a positive relationship between forest age and local phylogenetic diversity, suggesting functional convergence of distantly related lineages on traits that confer competitive dominance under low resource conditions. ConclusionsWe linked both functional and phylogenetic dimensions of community diversity with successional trajectories of post-agricultural tropical forests. Contrasting patterns of these dimensions of diversity shed light on the underlying community assembly processes. We argue that integrating traits and phylogeny with specific hypotheses about physiological and historical mechanisms is essential for advancing our understanding of the drivers of community change during succession.