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Persistence of Neighborhood Demographic Influences over Long Phylogenetic Distances May Help Drive Post-Speciation Adaptation in Tropical Forests.


Studies of forest dynamics plots (FDPs) have revealed a variety of negative density-dependent (NDD) demographic interactions, especially among conspecific trees. These interactions can affect growth rate, recruitment and mortality, and they play a central role in the maintenance of species diversity in these complex ecosystems. Here we use an equal area annulus (EAA) point-pattern method to comprehensively analyze data from two tropical FDPs, Barro Colorado Island in Panama and Sinharaja in Sri Lanka. We show that these NDD interactions also influence the continued evolutionary diversification of even distantly related tree species in these FDPs. We examine the details of a wide range of these interactions between individual trees and the trees that surround them. All these interactions, and their cumulative effects, are strongest among conspecific focal and surrounding tree species in both FDPs. They diminish in magnitude with increasing phylogenetic distance between heterospecific focal and surrounding trees, but do not disappear or change the pattern of their dependence on size, density, frequency or physical distance even among the most distantly related trees. The phylogenetic persistence of all these effects provides evidence that interactions between tree species that share an ecosystem may continue to promote adaptive divergence even after the species' gene pools have become separated. Adaptive divergence among taxa would operate in stark contrast to an alternative possibility that has previously been suggested, that distantly related species with dispersal-limited distributions and confronted with unpredictable neighbors will tend to converge on common strategies of resource use. In addition, we have also uncovered a positive density-dependent effect: growth rates of large trees are boosted in the presence of a smaller basal area of surrounding trees. We also show that many of the NDD interactions switch sign rapidly as focal trees grow in size, and that their cumulative effect can strongly influence the distributions and species composition of the trees that surround the focal trees during the focal trees' lifetimes.

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