This study assesses the relationship between phylogenetic relatedness of angiosperm tree species and climatic variables in local forests distributed along a tropical elevational gradient in South America. In particular, this paper addresses two questions: Is phylogenetic relatedness of plant species in communities related to temperature variables more strongly than to water variables for tropical elevational gradients? Is phylogenetic relatedness of plant species in communities driven by extreme climatic conditions (e.g. minimum temperature and water deficit) more strongly than by climatic seasonal variability (e.g. temperature seasonality and precipitation seasonality)?
I used a set of 34 angiosperm woody plant assemblages along an elevational gradient in the Andes within less than 5 degrees of the equator. Phylogenetic relatedness was quantified as net relatedness index (NRI) and nearest taxon index (NTI) and was related to major climatic variables. Correlation analysis and structure equation modeling approach were used to assess the relationships between phylogenetic relatedness and climatic variables.
Phylogenetic relatedness of angiosperm woody species in the local forest communities is more strongly associated with temperature-related variables than with water-related variables, is positively correlated with mean annual temperature and minimum temperature, and is related with extreme cold temperature more strongly than with seasonal temperature variability. NTI was related with elevation, mean annual temperature and minimum temperature more strongly than was NRI. Niche convergence, rather than niche conservatism, has played a primary role in driving community assembly in local forests along the tropical elevational gradient examined. Negative correlations of phylogenetic relatedness with elevation and higher correlations of phylogenetic relatedness with elevation and temperature for NTI than for NRI indicate that evolution of cold tolerance at high elevations in tropical regions primarily occurred at recent (terminal) phylogenetic nodes widely distributed among major clades.