Spatial phylogenetics reveals evolutionary constraints on the assembly of a large regional flora

Daniel Spalink, Ricardo Kriebel, Pan Li, Matthew C. Pace, Bryan T. Drew, John G. Zaborsky, Jeffrey Rose, Chloe P. Drummond, Mary Ann Feist, William S. Alverson, Donald M. Waller, Kenneth M. Cameron, Thomas J. Givnish, Kenneth J. Sytsma

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Premise of the Study: We used spatial phylogenetics to analyze the assembly of the Wisconsin flora, linking processes of dispersal and niche evolution to spatial patterns of floristic and phylogenetic diversity and testing whether phylogenetic niche conservatism can account for these patterns. Methods: We used digitized records and a new molecular phylogeny for 93% of vascular plants in Wisconsin to estimate spatial variation in species richness and phylogenetic α and β diversity in a native flora shaped mainly by postglacial dispersal and response to environmental gradients. We developed distribution models for all species and used these to infer fine-scale variation in potential diversity, phylogenetic distance, and interspecific range overlaps. We identified 11 bioregions based on floristic composition, mapped areas of neo- and paleo-endemism to establish new conservation priorities and predict how community-assembly patterns should shift with climatic change. Key Results: Spatial phylogenetic turnover most strongly reflects differences in temperature and spatial distance. For all vascular plants, assemblages shift from phylogenetically clustered to overdispersed northward, contrary to most other studies. This pattern is lost for angiosperms alone, illustrating the importance of phylogenetic scale. Conclusions: Species ranges and assemblage composition appear driven primarily by phylogenetic niche conservatism. Closely related species are ecologically similar and occupy similar territories. The average level and geographic structure of plant phylogenetic diversity within Wisconsin are expected to greatly decline over the next half century, while potential species richness will increase throughout the state. Our methods can be applied to allochthonous communities throughout the world.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1938-1950
Number of pages13
JournalAmerican Journal of Botany
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Wisconsin
  • climate change
  • community assembly
  • niche modeling
  • phylogenetic diversity
  • phylogenetic niche conservatism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics
  • Plant Science


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