Patterns of Phylogenetic Community Structure of Sand Dune Plant Communities in the Yucatan Peninsula: The Role of Deterministic and Stochastic Processes in Community Assembly

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Background: Tropical sand dunes are ideal systems for understanding drivers of community assembly as dunes are subject to both deterministic and stochastic processes. However, studies that evaluate the factors that mediate plant community assembly in these ecosystems are few. Aims: We evaluated phylogenetic community structure to elucidate the role of deterministic and stochastic processes in mediating the assembly of plant communities along the north of the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico. Methods: We used plastid genetic markers to evaluate phylogenetic relationships in 16 sand-dune communities. To evaluate the role of climate in shaping plant community structure we carried out linear regressions between climatic variables and mean phylogenetic distance. We estimated the Net Relatedness Index and Nearest Taxon Index to identify ecological processes mediating community assembly. Results: Observed phylogenetic structure was not different from random, suggesting that stochastic processes are the major determinants of community assembly. Climate was slightly correlated with phylogenetic diversity suggesting that abiotic environment plays a minimal role in community assembly. Conclusions: Random assembly appears to be the primary factor structuring the studied sand dune plant communities. Environmental filters may represent a secondary factor contributing to the observed phylogenetic structure. Thus, both processes may act simultaneously to mediate the assembly of sand-dune plant communities.