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Spatial variation in community structure: species, functional and phylogenetic diversity at different scales

Final Report Summary - COMMSTRUCT (Spatial variation in community structure: species, functional and phylogenetic diversity at different scales)

Final Publishable Summary Report
COMMSTRUCT: Spatial variation in community structure:
Species, functional and phylogenetic diversity at different scales
Intra-European Fellowship FP7-PEOPLE-2012-IEF - Project 331623

1. Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project
Large-scale patterns of biological diversity and their potential causes have long fascinated biologists. However, most current knowledge on diversity gradients is based on the study of variations in species richness, with other components of diversity (e.g. trait or functional diversity; herein FD; or phylogenetic diversity; herein PD) being less understood. For clarification, FD can be defined as “the value and range in the values, for the species present in an ecosystem, of those traits that influence one or more aspects of the functioning of an ecosystem”. On the other hand, PD incorporates the phylogenetic relationships between species and the evolutionary history of a species assemblage; high diversity indicates that the species in a community are more phylogenetically distinct.
Diversity can be measured at different spatial scales, being affected by multiple factors acting at different spatial and temporal scales. Indeed, the scale considered affects greatly the interpretation of diversity patterns, being even more important than variation across clades. In the project COMMSTRUCT, the Fellow (Dr. Ana Santos) was hosted by Dr. Jorge Lobo (biogeographer, Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales, CSIC, Spain) and collaborated mainly with Marcus Cianciaruso (community ecologist, Universidade de Goiás, Brazil) in order to study how and why community structure and assembly vary in space across different extents and scales. More specifically COMMSTRUCT aimed at pursuing the following objectives, using information on mammal and insect assemblages:
1. Examine the factors affecting the large scale spatial covariation between species, functional and phylogenetic diversity.
2. Characterize cross-scale variations of the functional and phylogenetic structure of communities from site to continental scales.
3. Identify environmental factors and other spatially structured effects (e.g. regional species pool) that may influence the cross-scale variations in the functional and phylogenetic structure of communities.
4. Identify the main processes affecting community assembly at different scales, or at least hypothesize the most likely ones.

2. Work performed and main scientific results achieved within the project
To achieve the objectives of COMMSTRUCT, several tasks have been performed, and the research results have either been published (or are on the brink of publication) in international conferences and journals. The most relevant tasks and results are:
• Development of a trait database of 32 species of Carabid beetles from Madeira Island (Portugal);
• Compilation from the literature of the worldwide distribution and of a trait database of parasitic wasps;
• Compilation from the literature of the worldwide distribution and of a phylogenetic and trait databases of the terrestrial mammals;
• Compilation of environmental, regional and other ancillary variables related to some of the datasets in use, obtained from GIS databases for different spatial scales.
• Development of the analytical tools necessary for processing and analysing such large datasets.
• Fifteen publications with the Fellow as an author, acknowledging FP7 COMMSTRUCT funding (six published, three under revision, and six in preparation).
• Seven talks presenting the research work in four conferences held in the US, China and Portugal, and also in three research institutes/universities (Brazil and Spain).
• Knowledge transference to University level through: a) supervision - one undergraduate, one MSc student (both from Universidad Autónoma de Madrid) and one ongoing supervision of a PhD student at Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales; ii) offering two new graduate courses on “Island Biogeography”, and “Phylogenetic and Functional Diversity” at the Universidad de Alcalá (Spain) and Universidade de Lisboa (Portugal).
• The research results from COMMSTRUCT facilitated the launch of a new funded project led by the Fellow, aimed at linking land use intensity, dung beetle (functional) diversity and ecosystem functioning

3. Final results and their potential impact and use
One of the major challenges for mankind in general, and EU in particular, is maintaining levels of ecosystem services that ensure the maintenance of conditions that support basic levels of economic growth or, at least, the subsistence of good-quality productive activities. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MEA, 2001-2005) provided a scientific appraisal of the condition and trends in the world’s ecosystems and the services they provide, developing the scientific basis for actions to conserve and use them sustainably. One of MEA’s initial conclusions was that such assessment needed to be done at different scales, from global to individual communities. By explicitly studying how functional and phylogenetic diversity vary in space across different scales, COMMSTRUCT provided the raw basis for a framework integrating the services provided by biodiversity at different scales.
The results of this project confirm the importance of scale when analysing ecological and evolutionary patterns and processes, and highlight the need to take this into consideration more thoroughly in future research. These results are fundamental for the development of biodiversity science as they contribute to build up the basis of the theory on how diversity is structured across scales, ultimately bridging the gaps between biogeography, macroecology and community ecology and helping to integrate these fields into a unified framework.

4. Contact
Dr Ana M. C. Santos (
Prof. Jorge Lobo (!research/vstc3=commstruct