Strong influence of the regional species pool of continent-wide structuring of local communities

There is a long tradition in ecology of evaluating the relative contribution of the regional species pool and local interactions on the structure of local communities. Similarly, a growing number of studies assess the phylogenetic structure of communities, relative to that in the regional species pool, to examine the interplay between broad-scale evolutionary and fine-scale ecological processes. Finally, a renewed interest in the influence of species source pools on communities has shown that the definition of the source pool influences interpretations of patterns of community structure. We use a continent-wide dataset of local ant communities and implement ecologically explicit source pool definitions to examine the relative importance of regional species pools and local interactions for shaping community structure. Then we assess which factors underlie systematic variation in the structure of communities along climatic gradients. We find that the average phylogenetic relatedness of species in ant communities decreases from tropical to temperate regions, but the strength of this relationship depends on the level of ecological realism in the definition of source pools. We conclude that the evolution of climatic niches influences the phylogenetic structure of regional source pools and that the influence of regional source pools on local community structure is strong.