We propose a method for detecting evolutionary forces underlying community assembly by quantifying the strength of community-environment relationships hierarchically along taxonomic ranks. This approach explores the potential role of phylogenetic conservatism on habitat preferences: wherein, phylogenetically related taxa are expected to exhibit similar environmental responses. Thus, when niches are conserved, broader taxonomic classification should not diminish the strength of community-environment relationships and may even yield stronger associations by summarizing occurrences and abundances of ecologically equivalent finely resolved taxa. In contrast, broader taxonomic classification should weaken community-environment relationships when niches are under great divergence (that is, by combining finer taxa with distinct environmental responses). Here, we quantified the strength of community-environment relationships using distance-based redundancy analysis, focusing on soil and seawater prokaryotic communities. We considered eight case studies (covering a variety of sampling scales and sequencing strategies) and found that the variation in community composition explained by environmental factors either increased or remained constant with broadening taxonomic resolution from species to order or even phylum level. These results support the niche conservatism hypothesis and indicate that broadening taxonomic resolution may strengthen niche-related signals by removing uncertainty in quantifying spatiotemporal distributions of finely resolved taxa, reinforcing the current notion of ecological coherence in deep prokaryotic branches.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics