Process-based species pools reveal the hidden signature of biotic interactions amid the influence of temperature filtering

A persistent challenge in ecology is to tease apart the influence of multiple processes acting simultaneously and interacting in complex ways to shape the structure of species assemblages. We implement a heuristic approach that relies on explicitly defining species pools and permits assessment of the relative influence of themain processes thought to shape assemblage structure: environmental filtering, dispersal limitations, and biotic interactions. We illustrate our approach using data on the assemblage composition and geographic distribution of hummingbirds, a comprehensive phylogeny and morphological traits. The implementation of several process-based species pool definitions in null models suggests that temperature—but not precipitation or dispersal limitation—acts as the main regional filter of assemblage structure. Incorporating this environmental filter directly into the definition of assemblage-specific species pools revealed an otherwise hidden pattern of phylogenetic evenness, indicating that biotic interactions might further influence hummingbird assemblage structure. Such hidden patterns of assemblage structure call for a reexamination of a multitude of phylogenetic- and trait-based studies that did not explicitly consider potentially important processes in their definition of the species pool. Our heuristic approach provides a transparent way to explore patterns and refine interpretations of the underlying causes of assemblage structure.