Question: Several mechanisms have been proposed that control the spatio-temporal pattern of species coexistence. Among others, the species pool hypothesis states that the large-scale species pool is an important factor in controlling small-scale species richness through filtering of species that can persist within a species assemblage on the basis of their tolerance of the abiotic environment. Because of the process of environmental filtering, co-occurring species that experience similar environmental conditions are likely to be more taxonomically similar than ecologically distant species. This is because, due to the conservatism of many species traits during evolutionary diversification, the ability of species to colonize the same ecological space is thought to depend at least partially on their taxonomic similarity. The question for this study is: Under the assumption of trait conservatism, does environmental filtering lead to nonrandom species assemblages with respect to their taxonomic structure?
Methods: The significance of taxonomic filtering in regulating species coexistence is tested using data from 15 local species assemblages from the urban flora of Rome (Italy). To find out whether the taxonomic structure of the selected ‘local’ species assemblages was significantly different from random, we used a Monte Carlo simulation in which for each local species assemblage, the actual taxonomic diversity was compared to the taxonomic diversity of 1000 virtual species lists of the same size extracted at random from a larger ‘regional’ species pool.
Results: We found that in most cases the local species assemblages have a higher degree of taxonomic similarity than would be expected by chance showing a phenomenon of ‘species condensation’ in a small number of higher-level taxa.
Conclusions: Our observations support the species pool hypothesis and imply that environmental filtering is an important mechanism in shaping the taxonomic structure of species assemblages. Therefore, the incorporation of taxonomic diversity into landscape and community ecology may be beneficial for a better understanding of the processes that regulate species coexistence.
Nomenclature: Conti et al. 2005.