Vertebrate Community Assembly

Scale and Process: Primate and Non-Primate Mammal Community Composition and Diversity in Madagascar


The study of community assembly, or the processes that shape the occurrence of species in an ecological community, is a fundamental area of inquiry in ecology. Patterns in community composition and diversity are attributed to the combined operation of deterministic (e.g., environmental sorting), stochastic (e.g., dispersal limitation), and biogeographic (e.g., dispersal barriers) processes. Environmental sorting results in communities composed of species that are ecologically adapted to their environment. Dispersal limitation results in communities shaped by the dispersal distance between sites. Biogeographic dispersal barriers prevent species dispersal between sites, and community membership is dependent upon site isolation. Community assembly is also dependent upon diversity type (taxonomic, functional, or phylogenetic) and spatial scale.


I investigated the processes shaping the diversity of primate and nonvolant mammal communities using taxonomic, functional and phylogenetic diversity measures and a spatially explicit modelling approach. I described mammal diversity patterns at ecoregional, regional, and inter-regional scales within and across Madagascar and Australia. I tested the relationship of mammal community diversity to environmental, spatial, and biogeographic variables, indicating deterministic, stochastic, and biogeographic processes, in Madagascar and Australia. First, I found that arboreal mammal communities in Madagascar were more dispersal-limited than terrestrial mammal communities. Second, a combination of environmental sorting and dispersal limitation best explained primate taxonomic and functional diversity. Third, I tested for convergent diversity and assembly patterns in Madagascar and Australia, due to similar biogeographic and evolutionary histories, and found non-convergent patterns. Overall, biogeographic dispersal barriers were weak predictors of mammal diversity in Madagascar and Australia. Phylogenetic and functional diversity measures were weakly correlated, and phylogenetic diversity provided models with weak explanatory power. Environmental and spatial variables indicating the combined operation of environmental sorting and dispersal limitation variably shaped the taxonomic and functional diversity of mammal communities in Madagascar and Australia. Mammal community diversity was regionally specific, shaped by the unique historical and landscape components of each region, including ecoregional effects and the extinction of sympatric species. Macroscale studies of diversity should carefully investigate the influence of spatial scale and regional factors that can result in varied assembly patterns and unique ecological communities, such as those present for the nonvolant mammals of Madagascar and Australia.

Associated presentations and publications:

  1. Bannar-Martin, K.H. 2016. Non-convergent mammal community diversity and assembly in shared ecoregions: A test in Madagascar and Australia. Pp. 343 in: R. Gabriel, R.B. Elias, I.R. Amorim & P.A.V. Borges (Eds). Conference program and abstracts of the 2nd International Conference on Island Evolution, Ecology and Conservation: Island Biology 2016, 18-22 July 2016, Angra do Heroísmo, Azores, Portugal. Arquipelago. Life and Marine Sciences. Supplement 9.
  2. Bannar-Martin, K.H. 2014. Primate and non-primate mammal community assembly: the influence of biogeographic barriers and spatial scale. International Journal of Primatology. 35(6): 1122-1142.  DOI: 10.1007/s10764-014-9792-2 [Erratum: 35(6):1143] (Invited)
  3. Bannar-Martin, K.H. 2014. Different diversity measures tell different primate community assembly stories. American Journal of Physical Anthropology. 153(S58): 72. (Student Presentation Honourable Mention)
  4. Bannar-Martin, K.H. 2013. Using spatial structural equation modeling as a novel approach to understanding primate community composition and diversity. American Journal of Physical Anthropology. 150(S56): 73-74. (Invited)
  5. Bannar-Martin, K.H. “Scale and Process: Primate and Non-Primate Mammal Community Composition and Diversity in Madagascar.” AAUW Austin Branch May meeting, Austin, TX, May, 2013. (Guest Lecture, Invited)

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