Papers in the Biological Sciences



Carlos Alberto Arnillas, University of Toronto ScarboroughFollow
Elizabeth T. Borer, University of Minnesota
Eric W. Seabloom, University of Minnesota
Juan Alberti, Instituto de Investigaciones Marinas y Costeras
Selene Baez, Escuela Politécnica Nacional
Jonathan D. Bakker, University of Washington
Elizabeth H. Boughton, Archbold Biological Station
Yvonne M. Buckley, Trinity College Dublin
Miguel Nuno Bugalho, University of Lisbon
Ian Donohue, Trinity College Dublin
John Dwyer, School of Biological Sciences, ST-Lucia
Jennifer Firn, Queensland University of Technology (QUT) Brisbane
Riley Gridzak, Queen's University - Kingston, Ontario
Nicole Hagenah, University of Pretoria
Yann Hautier, Utrecht University
Aveliina Helm, University of Tartu
Anke Jentsch, University of Bayreuth
Johannes M. H. Knops, Xi'an Jiaotong Liverpool University; University of Nebraska-LincolnFollow
Kimberly J. Komatsu, Smithsonian Environmental Research Center
Lauri Laanisto, Estonian University of Life Sciences
Ramesh Laungani, Poly Prep Country Day School
Rebecca McCulley, University of Kentucky
Joslin L. Moore, Monash University
John W. Morgan, La Trobe University
Sally A. Power, Western Sydney University
Jodi Price, Charles Sturt University
Mahesh Sankaran, National Centre for Biological Sciences; University of Leeds
Brandon Schamp, Algoma University
Karina Speziale, Grupo de Investigaciones en Biología de la Conservación
Rachel Standish, Murdoch University
Risto Virtanen, University of Oulu
Marc W. Cadotte, University of Toronto Scarborough; University of Toronto

Document Type


Date of this Version



DOI: 10.1002/ece3.8266


This is an open access article under the terms of the Creat ive Commo ns Attri bution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. © 2021 The Authors. Ecology and Evolution published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


Biotic and abiotic factors interact with dominant plants—the locally most frequent or with the largest coverage—and nondominant plants differently, partially because dominant plants modify the environment where nondominant plants grow. For instance, if dominant plants compete strongly, they will deplete most resources, forcing nondominant plants into a narrower niche space. Conversely, if dominant plants are constrained by the environment, they might not exhaust available resources but instead may ameliorate environmental stressors that usually limit nondominants. Hence, the nature of interactions among nondominant species could be modified by dominant species. Furthermore, these differences could translate into a disparity in the phylogenetic relatedness among dominants compared to the relatedness among nondominants. By estimating phylogenetic dispersion in 78 grasslands across five continents, we found that dominant species were clustered (e.g., co-dominant grasses), suggesting dominant species are likely organized by environmental filtering, and that nondominant species were either randomly assembled or overdispersed. Traits showed similar trends for those sites (<50%) with sufficient trait data. Furthermore, several lineages scattered in the phylogeny had more nondominant species than expected at random, suggesting that traits common in nondominants are phylogenetically conserved and have evolved multiple times. We also explored environmental drivers of the dominant/nondominant disparity. We found different assembly patterns for dominants and nondominants, consistent with asymmetries in assembly mechanisms. Among the different postulated mechanisms, our results suggest two complementary hypotheses seldom explored: (1) Nondominant species include lineages adapted to thrive in the environment generated by dominant species. (2) Even when dominant species reduce resources to nondominant ones, dominant species could have a stronger positive effect on some nondominants by ameliorating environmental stressors affecting them, than by depleting resources and increasing the environmental stress to those nondominants. These results show that the dominant/nondominant asymmetry has ecological and evolutionary consequences fundamental to understand plant communities.

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