Common ancestry is a poor predictor of competitive traits in freshwater green algae

Anita Narwani, Markos A. Alexandrou, James Herrin, Alaina Vouaux, Charles Zhou, Todd H. Oakley, Bradley J. Cardinale

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Phytoplankton species traits have been used to successfully predict the outcome of competition, but these traits are notoriously laborious to measure. If these traits display a phylogenetic signal, phylogenetic distance (PD) can be used as a proxy for trait variation. We provide the first investigation of the degree of phylogenetic signal in traits related to competition in freshwater green phytoplankton. We measured 17 traits related to competition and tested whether they displayed a phylogenetic signal across a molecular phylogeny of 59 species of green algae. We also assessed the fit of five models of trait evolution to trait variation across the phylogeny. There was no significant phylogenetic signal for 13 out of 17 ecological traits. For 7 traits, a non-phylogenetic model provided the best fit. For another 7 traits, a phylogenetic model was selected, but parameter values indicated that trait variation evolved recently, diminishing the importance of common ancestry. This study suggests that traits related to competition in freshwater green algae are not generally well-predicted by patterns of common ancestry. We discuss the mechanisms by which the link between phylogenetic distance and phenotypic differentiation may be broken.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0137085
JournalPloS one
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 8 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • General


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