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Title: The role of functional traits and phylogeny in assembly of tropical forest communities in Danum Valley, Sabah
Author: Kaye, Maria Ellen
ISNI:       0000 0004 6056 8052
Awarding Body: University of Aberdeen
Current Institution: University of Aberdeen
Date of Award: 2016
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Tropical forests have been studied by community ecologists since the earliest days of the field because of their diversity and complexity and much of the theory behind community assembly has been developed in the tropics. However, the processes that act to assemble species in tropical forest across a very fine scale are still poorly understood. This study investigates community structure in 20ha area of hyper diverse tropical rainforest in Sabah, Malaysia. In order to examine community phylogenetic structure, I reconstructed a molecular phylogeny for all species in the study site using DNA barcoding loci. From this, I calculated phylogenetic diversity metrics for each community and then used a null model to compare observed phylogenetic diversity with that which would be expected if communities were randomly assembled with respect to phylogeny. The analyses showed that communities are more closely related than predicted by the null model. I also collected species functional trait data and showed that species assemblages and community weighted mean trait values correlate with environmental gradients on the plot. I also compared functional diversity to data simulated from null models. This showed that communities are on average more functionally similar than predicted at random. Finally, I performed a multivariate analysis with environmental, spatial, phylogenetic and trait data from communities across the plot. The analyses recovered an elevational and soil gradient that correlated strongly with community composition. Species occupying different ranges along this gradient had differing trait values and were phylogenetically distinct. These analyses demonstrate that even fine scale environmental variation is influential in assembling communities over a small area of forest. A soil nutrient gradient is consistently recovered that correlates with topography, suggesting that soil nutrient distribution is mediated by the downslope movement of water leaching soils on ridge tops and leading to accumulation of nutrients in valleys. This gradient is associated with species compositional variation and also with community weighted mean functional traits, indicating that the environment is influencing species distributions even over very small areas. Communities were both functionally and phylogenetically clustered, adding further support to this conclusion.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Natural Environment Research Council
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Biotic communities ; Phylogeny ; Rain forests