Backbones of evolutionary history test biodiversity theory for microbes

James P. O'Dwyer, Steven W. Kembel, Thomas J. Sharpton, Stephen Wilson Pacala

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


Identifying the ecological and evolutionary mechanisms that determine biological diversity is a central question in ecology. In microbial ecology, phylogenetic diversity is an increasingly common and relevant means of quantifying community diversity, particularly given the challenges in defining unambiguous species units from environmental sequence data. We explore patterns of phylogenetic diversity across multiple bacterial communities drawn from different habitats and compare these data to evolutionary trees generated using theoretical models of biodiversity. We have two central findings. First, although on finer scales the empirical trees are highly idiosyncratic, on coarse scales the backbone of these trees is simple and robust, consistent across habitats, and displays bursts of diversification dotted throughout. Second, we find that these data demonstrate a clear departure from the predictions of standard neutral theories of biodiversity and that an alternative family of generalized models provides a qualitatively better description. Together, these results lay the groundwork for a theoretical framework to connect ecological mechanisms to observed phylogenetic patterns in microbial communities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)8356-8361
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number27
StatePublished - Jul 7 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


  • Coalescent theory
  • Macroecology
  • Microbial biodiversity
  • Phylogeny


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