Theses Doctoral

Functional and Phylogenetic Dimensions of Tree Diversity Across Environmental Gradients in Puerto Rico: Insights to community assembly processes

Muscarella, Robert

One goal central to ecology is to understand how species interactions and biophysical processes interact over vastly different scales to govern past, current, and future patterns of diversity. Today, this goal is particularly critical given the degree to which rapid environmental change is affecting species distributions and community composition. Natural environmental gradients provide excellent opportunities to uncover possible mechanistic links between species distributions and environmental conditions links that are invaluable for understanding how species may respond to environmental change. This dissertation builds on recent approaches that combine information on species' functional traits and evolutionary histories to refine our view of how contemporary and historical processes jointly govern the distribution of biodiversity. In the context of tropical tree communities of Puerto Rico, the following four chapters evaluate hypotheses about the distribution of different dimensions of diversity (i.e., species, functional, and phylogenetic) across regional abiotic gradients. In chapter 1, I develop an island-wide molecular phylogeny for the native and naturalized trees of Puerto Rico, and show preliminary evidence that dry forests comprise an evolutionarily clustered subset of the total island tree flora. In chapter 2, I examine functional and phylogenetic diversity across spatial resource gradients, and use these patterns to infer variation in community assembly processes along a gradient of water availability. In chapter 3, I use temporal shifts of functional and phylogenetic diversity during secondary succession to infer the shifts in the processes underlying successional change in wet forests of Puerto Rico. Finally, in chapter 4, I evaluate the linkages between species functional traits and their geographic distributions, and test the hypothesis that community-weighted mean trait values reflect the `optimal' strategy for a given set of abiotic conditions. A theme common to all chapters is the idea that functional and phylogenetic dimensions of diversity can shed light on the processes underlying patterns of diversity better than more traditional metrics of species diversity. I provide recommendations for future research directions at the end of each chapter and in the final conclusions.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology
Thesis Advisors
Uriarte, Maria
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
December 12, 2014