It is a truism to say that ecological communities are diverse. They often contain dozens or hundreds or thousands of species that represent many of the deep origins in the tree of life. A recent paper by Prinzing and colleagues published in Ecology Letters tested the hypothesis that communities of plants that include more of the ancient divergences from the evolutionary tree of plants should also contain a greater diversity of physical traits. They examined over 9000 plant communities and found that those that contain fewer evolutionary lineages actually had greater trait diversity than those randomly assembled from more lineages. This result reveals that when communities are assembled from a few lineages (likely due to strong environmental selection -e.g., drought tolerance) those members tended to have evolved large differences. That is, while species may be constrained to certain habitat types due to their evolutionary heritage, successful coexistence depends on maximizing differences.
Andreas Prinzing, Reineke Reiffers, Wim G. Braakhekke, Stephan M. Hennekens, Oliver Tackenberg, Wim A. Ozinga, Joop H. J. Schamine, Jan M. van Groenendael (2008). Less lineages more trait variation: phylogenetically clustered plant communities are functionally more diverse Ecology Letters, 11 (8), 809-819 DOI: 10.1111/j.1461-0248.2008.01189.x