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Chemical similarity and local community assembly in the species rich tropical genus Piper
- Salazar, Diego, Jaramillo, M. Alejandra, Marquis, Robert J.
- Ecology 2016 v.97 no.11 pp. 3176-3183
- Piper, chemical composition, chemical defenses, community structure, forests, herbivores, interspecific variation, natural enemies, phylogeny, Costa Rica
- Community ecologists have strived to find mechanisms that mediate the assembly of natural communities. Recent evidence suggests that natural enemies could play an important role in the assembly of hyper‐diverse tropical plant systems. Classic ecological theory predicts that in order for coexistence to occur, species differences must be maximized across biologically important niche dimensions. For plant–herbivore interactions, it has been recently suggested that, within a particular community, plant species that maximize the difference in chemical defense profiles compared to neighboring taxa will have a relative competitive advantage. Here we tested the hypothesis that plant chemical diversity can affect local community composition in the hyper‐diverse genus Piper at a lowland wet forest location in Costa Rica. We first characterized the chemical composition of 27 of the most locally abundant species of Piper. We then tested whether species with different chemical compositions were more likely to coexist. Finally, we assessed the degree to which Piper phylogenetic relationships are related to differences in secondary chemical composition and community assembly. We found that, on average, co‐occurring species were more likely to differ in chemical composition than expected by chance. Contrary to expectations, there was no phylogenetic signal for overall secondary chemical composition. In addition we found that species in local communities were, on average, more phylogenetically closely related than expected by chance, suggesting that functional traits other than those measured here also influence local assembly. We propose that selection by herbivores for divergent chemistries between closely related species facilitates the coexistence of a high diversity of congeneric taxa via apparent competition.