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Title: Grassland restoration characteristics influence phylogenetic and taxonomic structure of plant communities and suggest assembly mechanisms

Phylogenetic and species‐based taxonomic descriptions of community structure may provide complementary information about the mechanisms driving community assembly across different environments. Environmental filtering may have similar effects on taxonomic and phylogenetic diversity under the assumption of niche conservatism, whereas competitive exclusion could produce contrasting patterns in these diversity metrics. In grassland restorations, these diversity patterns might then reveal potential assembly mechanisms underlying the impacts of restoration and management conditions on community structure.

We compared plant community structure (alpha diversity, composition, and within‐site beta diversity) from both phylogenetic and taxonomic perspectives. Using surveys from 120 tallgrass prairie restorations in four regions of the Midwestern United States, we examined the effects of four potential drivers or environmental gradients: precipitation in the first year of restoration, seed mix richness, time since last prescribed fire, and restoration age, and included soil conditions as a covariate.

First‐year precipitation influenced taxonomic community structure, but had weak effects on phylogenetic diversity and composition. Similarly, greater seed mix richness increased taxonomic diversity but did not influence phylogenetic diversity. Taxonomic, but not phylogenetic, diversity generally was lower in older restorations and those with a longer time since the last prescribed fire. These drivers consistently explained more variation in taxonomic than phylogenetic diversity and composition, perhaps in part because species turnover was largely among related species, producing weak impacts on phylogenetic community measures.

An impact of precipitation on taxonomic but not phylogenetic diversity suggests that there may not be large differences in drought tolerance among clades that would cause phylogenetic patterns to arise from this environmental filter. Declining taxonomic diversity but not phylogenetic diversity is consistent with competitive exclusion as an assembly mechanism when competition is strongest between related species.

Synthesis. This research shows how studying taxonomic and phylogenetic diversity of ecosystem restorations can inform plant community ecology and help natural resource managers better predict the outcomes of restoration actions and management.

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Journal Name:
Journal of Ecology
Page Range / eLocation ID:
p. 2105-2120
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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