Plant phylogenetic history explains in‐stream decomposition at a global scale

TitlePlant phylogenetic history explains in‐stream decomposition at a global scale
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2020
AuthorsLeRoy, CJ, Hipp, AL, Lueders, K, Shah, JJFollsta, Kominoski, JS, Ardón, M, Dodds, WK, Gessner, MO, Griffiths, NA, Lecerf, A, Manning, DWP, Sinsabaugh, RL, Webster, JR
Secondary AuthorsWardle, D
JournalJournal of Ecology
Accession NumberKNZ002006

    1. Evolutionary history and adaptation to climate shape plant traits. Some include leaf traits that influence litter quality. Thus, evolutionary history should affect litter decomposition, a crucial ecosystem process. In addition, litter decomposition is directly influenced by climate. We consequently expect plant phylogeny, adaptation and climate to jointly influence litter decomposition. These effects and their interactions have yet to be untangled at a global scale.
    2. Here we present an analysis of variation in litter decomposition rates in rivers and streams across 285 published studies for 239 species (from ferns to angiosperms) distributed at 494 locations world-wide. We estimated the relative contributions of climatic conditions and phylogenetic heritage on litter decomposition rates, partitioning phylogenetic from climatic effects at the site and species levels using phylogenetic eigenvector analysis and phylogenetic linear mixed models. In addition, we modelled transitions in decomposition rates under a suite of multiple adaptive-regime Ornstein–Uhlenbeck models to test the hypothesis that natural selection has shaped clade-level litter decomposition rates.
    3. Leaf litter decomposition rate exhibited a significant phylogenetic signal. Modelling decomposition rate as a function of location, climatic niche and phylogeny consistently recovered phylogeny alone as one of the top models in species‐level analyses. Since many previous studies have focused on the same species across many locations, we also conducted analyses at the species × site level. Both phylogenetic and climatic factors were favoured in models of this analysis, but the single most important predictor for angiosperms and for all taxa analysed together was phylogeny alone.
    4. Synthesis. For plant species distributed globally at nearly 500 locations we found that plant phylogenetic history is a critically important predictor of litter decomposition rate in rivers and streams, explaining more of the variance in decomposition than site or climatic regime. Thus, our study demonstrates the influence of evolutionary history on suites of plant traits that shape a key ecosystem process.

Short TitleJ Ecol