Does phylogenetic relatedness influence the strength of competition among vascular plants?

  • Cahill J
  • Kembel S
  • Lamb E
 et al. 
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A widely assumed but largely untested hypothesis central to ecology and evolutionary biology has been Charles Darwin's suggestion that closely related species will be more ecologically similar, and thus will compete more strongly with each other than they will with more distantly related species. We provide one of the first direct tests of the "competition-relatedness hypothesis" by combining two data sets: the relative competitive ability of 50 vascular plant species competing against 92 competitor species measured in five multi-species experiments, and measures of the phylogenetic relatedness of these species. In contrast to Darwin's assertion, there were weak relationships between the strength of competition and phylogenetic relatedness. Across all species studied, the competition-relatedness relationship was weak and not significant. This overall lack of pattern masked different responses of monocot and eudicot focal (phytometer) species. When monocots served as the focal (phytometer) species, the intensity of competition increased with the phylogenetic distance separating species, while competition decreased with phylogenetic distance for eudicot phytometers. These results were driven by the monocot-eudicot evolutionary split, such that monocots were poor competitors against eudicots, while eudicots are most strongly suppressed by other eudicots. There was no relationship between relatedness and competition for eudicots competing with other eudicots, while monocots did compete more intensely with closely related monocots than with distantly related monocots. Overall, the relationships between competition intensity and relatedness were weak compared to the strong and consistent relationships between competitive ability and functional traits such as plant size that have been reported by other studies. We suggest that Darwin's assertion that competition will be strongest among closely related species is not supported by empirical data, at least for the 142 vascular plant species in this study. © 2007 Rübel Foundation, ETH Zürich.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Comparative analysis
  • Competitive effect
  • Evolution of competitive ability
  • Phylogeny
  • Phytometer

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  • James F. Cahill

  • Steven W. Kembel

  • Eric G. Lamb

  • Paul A. Keddy

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