Authors: Jiaqi Tan, Zhichao Pu, Wade A. Ryberg, and Lin Jiang

Species immigration history can structure ecological communities through priority effects, which are often mediated by competition. As competition tends to be stronger between species with more similar niches, we hypothesize that species phylogenetic relatedness, under niche conservatism, may be a reasonable surrogate of niche similarity between species, and thus influence the strength of priority effects.

We tested this hypothesis using a laboratory microcosm experiment in which we established bacterial species pools with different levels of phylogenetic relatedness and manipulated the immigration history of species from each pool into microcosms.

Our results showed that strong priority effects, and hence multiple community states, only emerged for the species pool with the greatest phylogenetic relatedness. Community assembly also resulted in a significant positive relationship between bacterial phylogenetic diversity and ecosystem functions. Interestingly, these results emerged despite a lack of phylogenetic conservatism for most of the bacterial functional traits considered.

Our results highlight the utility of phylogenetic information for understanding the structure and functioning of ecological communities, even when phylogenetically conserved functional traits are not identified or measured.