“The evolutionary legacy of diversification predicts ecosystem function”

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Benjamin Yguel, Hervé Jactel, Ian S. Pearse, Daniel Moen, Marten Winter, Joaquin Hortal, Matthew R. Helmus, Ingolf Kühn, Sandrine Pavoine, Oliver Purschke, Evan Weiher, Cyrille Violle, Wim Ozinga, Martin Brändle, Igor Bartish, and Andreas Prinzing

A community assembles a history – its members may share a recent common ancestor in some communities, or may only be connected by very ancient common ancestry in other communities, and various intermediate scenarios are possible. Does such different relatedness between the species of a community affect its performance?

Based on a workshop performed at the German Center for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv), an international team bringing together ecologists and evolutionary biologists, theoreticians and naturalists has developed a novel tool that makes it possible to answer this question. This tool enables a wide range of realistically complex age structures of phylogenies (evolutionary relatedness between species) to be described with only two parameters. This team tested their method on simulated phylogenies and real data. In particular, they benefited from a long-running productivity-biodiversity experiment studying the effect of the diversity of plant communities on biomass production.

The most productive communities turned out to be those of balanced age structure, i.e., some species sharing recent, others intermediate, and others only ancient ancestors. This effect of evolutionary age structure is independent from that of previously recognized drivers of productivity (species richness and functional traits), and of similar importance.

Overall, the ancestry of species and their local assembly into communities create a local age structure, and local age structure may control performance in terms of ecosystem functioning. This result suggests a possible eco-evolutionary feedback between millions of years of shared evolution and ecosystem functioning. Read the Article