The Ecophylogeny of Complex Species Interactions

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Working Group Abstract

Jessica Green and Jennifer Dunne

The Ecophylogeny of Complex Species Interactions

Our goal is to advance ecological theory and apply emerging phylogenetic techniques to understand the organization of complex trophic interactions among species. Recent developments stemming from quantum field theory and mathematical models of cladogenesis will be used to quantitatively link phylogenetic, food web, and spatial networks. The application of ecophylogenetic analyses to new, highly resolved food-web data will allow, for the first time, robust exploration of a likely evolutionary mechanism that may, in part, underlie observed organization of species interactions. Our approach to theory development will be anchored by fundamental principles of spatial biodiversity scaling. Spatial scale is crucially important in ecology, with many phenomena showing universal large-scale behavior, seemingly independent of much of the smaller-scale complexity. Members of our working group have recently developed a spatially-explicit model of community assembly, drawing on the methods of quantum field theory, and allowing for the prediction of taxonomic patterns like the Species-Area Relationship. A key part of our program will be to integrate inter-specific interactions and size-structure with this field theory framework, as a means to develop an evolutionary model of food webs across space. A second theme in our workshop will be the spatial scaling of phylogenetic diversity. Using a phylogenetic approach to characterize biodiversity has important consequences for conservation, is essential in exploring microbial life, and takes our understanding of biodiversity down to the genetic level. The phylogenetic relatedness of species influences their assembly as well as their trophic interactions, which are both inherently rooted in space. Yet, the spatial scaling of phylogenetic diversity is poorly understood. Using models of cladogenesis, members of our working group have established a quantitative link between spatial patterns of taxonomic and phylogenetic diversity. We will expand on these recent advances to explore how phylogenetic diversity relates to taxonomic diversity within food-webs and across the landscape. This proposed work is made possible by the recent compilation of several highly resolved food web datasets that provide the kind of detail necessary for these kinds of analyses. These include datasets such as the ~500 species food web of the Antarctic Weddell Sea, a set of food webs compiled at multiple spatial scales for a Northwest Pacific intertidal ecosystem, and a set of mangrove islet food webs that capture the process of ecological assembly through time built on top of the classic Simberloff-Willson island biogeography biodiversity experiment data.