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Interactions between plants and primates shape community diversity in a rainforest in Madagascar

Herrera, James P.
The journal of animal ecology 2016 v.85 no.4 pp. 982-993
Primates, community structure, environmental factors, functional diversity, habitat destruction, habitats, models, phenotype, phylogeny, rain forests, trees, Madagascar
Models of ecological community assembly predict how communities of interacting organisms may be shaped by abiotic and biotic factors. Competition and environmental filtering are the predominant factors hypothesized to explain community assembly. This study tested the effects of habitat, phylogenetic and phenotypic trait predictors on species co‐occurrence patterns and abundances, with the endemic primates of Madagascar as an empirical system. The abundance of 11 primate species was estimated along gradients of elevation, food resource abundance and anthropogenic habitat disturbance at local scales in south‐east Madagascar. Community composition was compared to null models to test for phylogenetic and functional structure, and the effects of phylogenetic relatedness of co‐occurring species, their trait similarity and environmental variables on species’ abundances were tested using mixed models and quantile regressions. Resource abundance was the strongest predictor of community structure. Where food tree abundance was high, closely related species with similar traits dominated communities. High‐elevation communities with lower food tree abundance consisted of species that were distantly related and had divergent traits. Closely related species had dissimilar abundances where they co‐occurred, partially driven by trait dissimilarity, indicating character displacement. By integrating local‐scale variation in primate community composition, evolutionary relatedness and functional diversity, this study found strong evidence that community assembly in this system can be explained by competition and character displacement along ecological gradients.