Community Phylogenetics

We have several projects focused on community phylogenetics, some of which are a collaboration with Ben Baiser in UF’s Department of Wildlife Ecology & Conservation that are focused on community phylogenetics. The state of Florida has the richest fern flora of any state in the continental U.S. It is home to 149 species of ferns, including ~120 that are thought to be native. We are using community phylogenetic methods and niche modeling to explore georeferenced data for these species, in order to examine distributions, diversity, and various components of community structure for all the ferns in Florida. Community phylogenetic methods enable us to examine the dynamics of plant community and ecosystem assembly in the context of species’ evolutionary histories. Combined with ecological, functional, and climatic data, we can take an integrated approach to understanding the various biotic, abiotic, and evolutionary components driving patterns of diversity in communities at different temporal and spatial scales.

The Pine Rockland ecosystem is a globally imperiled system of fragmented habitats in South Florida that are home to 500+ plant species and numerous animal, fungal, and bacterial taxa. In another ongoing collaboration, we are working to characterize the plant and herbivore diversity in these communities in order to identify feeding links and construct food web networks for this ecosystem. We are currently building a community phylogeny for all of the plant taxa in these habitats, which will be the starting point for analyses of functional and phylogenetic diversity in Pine Rockland fragments, and for analyzing insect feeding strategies and building food webs. Lauren Trotta, a MS/PhD student in the Baiser and Sessa labs, has constructed this phylogeny and used it to investigate the relationships among invasive, threatened and endangered, and endemic Pine Rockland species in order to inform conservation and management efforts.

Publications:

  • Trotta L, B Baiser, J Possley, D Li, J Lange, S Martin, and EB Sessa. Community phylogeny of the globally critically imperiled pine rockland ecosystem. American Journal of Botany. In press.
  • Sessa EB, SM Chambers, D Li, L Trotta, L Endara, JG Burleigh, and B Baiser. Community assembly of the ferns of Florida.American Journal of Botany. 105(3): 549–564. doi: 10.1002/ajb2.1073 PDF