ECR Feature: Josep Padullés Cubino

Josep is a postdoc in the Department of Botany and Zoology at Masaryk University. He is a biogeographer and macroecologist interested in plants and their community structure. Josep shares his recent work on developing maps of phylogenetic structure of plant communities across Europe.

Josep Padullés Cubino with Mediterranean sclerophyllous evergreen forests in the back (Mare de Déu del Mont, Catalonia; Author: Laura Guerrero).

Name. Josep Padullés Cubino

Personal links. ResearchGate | Orcid | Twitter | GoogleScholar

Institute. Department of Botany & Zoology, Masaryk University, Brno, CZ

Academic life stage. Postdoc.

Research themes. Plant biogeography and macroecology, both in natural and anthropogenic habitats.

Current study system. I study forest plant communities across all Europe. Forests represent up to 40% of Europe’s land surface making it important to understand their ecology and biogeography. Our recent study was novel because until then most studies examining the phylogenetic structure (i.e., the degree of species phylogenetic relatedness) of forest plant species had either focused on specific clades or life forms (mainly trees), and used either floras or regional checklists, thus omitting the effect of fine-scale processes, such as species interactions, at the plant community level. Our study was the first providing maps of the phylogenetic structure of forest plant communities at the European scale.

Recent paper in JBI. Padullés Cubino, J., et al. 2021. Phylogenetic structure of European forest vegetation. Journal of Biogeography, 48, 903-916.

Mediterranean evergreen Quercus suber forest with accompanying shrubs (e.g., Phillyrea angustifolia, Pistacia lentiscus, Myrtus communis) in Lago di Burano, Italy (Author: Gianmaria Bonari).

Motivation behind this paper. We used vegetation-plot data from the European Vegetation Archive (EVA;; Chytrý et al., 2016, Journal of Vegetation Science), which has recently been launched and contains more than 1.5 million vegetation plots sampled across Europe. This, along with environmental data and novel analytical methods and tools, has created unprecedented opportunities for exploring fine-scale patterns of phylogenetic structure at large spatial scales and understanding their determinants. Studying these spatial patterns and relationships is important because they provide insights into the mechanisms that determine the coexistence of specific groups of plant lineages and help us explain why some lineages (and not others) thrive under certain environmental conditions at certain locations. Furthermore, while we have a relatively good understanding of the spatial patterns and drivers of plant species richness in European forests, less is known about their phylogenetic structure. Our study can be used to compare hotspots of species richness and phylogenetic diversity across Europe, and serve as a basis for more regional or local-scale studies.

Mediterranean Pinus pinaster forest with Erica arborea and Calluna vulgaris in the understory in Monticiano, Italy (Author: Gianmaria Bonari).

Key methodologies. To investigate the phylogenetic structure of European forest vegetation, we considered alternative metrics either sensitive to basal (ancient evolutionary dynamics) or terminal (recent dynamics) branching in the phylogeny. Then, we compared the observed values of these metrics against the expected values obtained from a null model. As a result, we classified vegetation plots with respect to the phylogenetic relatedness under random expectations: (1) those that did not differ from random expectations; (2) those with more closely related species than random (phylogenetic clustering); and (3) those with more distantly related species than random (phylogenetic overdispersion). We also determined what plant lineages where overrepresented in particular forests across Europe, and tested factors that might drive phylogenetic clustering. The general expectation was that increased environmental stress combined with phylogenetic niche conservatism would select for a subset of closely-related (clustered) lineages adapted to these extreme environments.

Temperate oak-hornbeam (Quercus petraeaCarpinus betulus) forest with Galanthus nivalis in the Moravian Karst, Czech Republic (Author: Milan Chytrý).

Unexpected outcomes. One challenge was to deal with the large amount of data. We initially had more than 140,000 vegetation plots in our dataset. We resolved it by performing stratified resampling of the plots throughout the study area, which allowed us to use a smaller yet still representative dataset. The calculations of the metrics of phylogenetic structure were also computationally demanding. Luckily for us, some recently developed R packages, like ‘PhyloMeasures’ (Tsirogiannis & Sandel, 2016; Ecography), made our lives easier.

Major results. We found that plant species in forests located in areas with higher climatic stress and instability were more phylogenetically related than random (i.e., more phylogenetically clustered). Clustered forest communities also occurred in Fennoscandia, particularly in areas that were glaciated during the Pleistocene, likely reflecting limited postglacial migration of certain plant linages after deglaciation. In contrast, forest communities whose plants were more distantly related than random (i.e., phylogenetically overdispersed) were relatively common in the hemiboreal zone in Russia, which could reflect the effect of the transition between the boreal and temperate biogeographical regions. Overdispersed forest communities were also relatively more common in some areas around the Mediterranean Basin, which partially overlapped with areas considered as refugia for many lineages during the Pleistocene glaciations. We also found that the families Ericaceae, Poaceae and Fagaceae were overrepresented in forests in different regions in Europe.

Hemiboreal spruce forest with Picea abies in Norra Kvills National Park, Sweden (Author: Milan Chytrý).

Next steps. We are now exploring how different axes of plant trait variation (i.e., the leaf economic and plant size spectra) differ in forest understories across Europe. Forest understories play a vital role in ecosystem functioning (e.g., litter decomposition and nutrient cycling) and the provision of ecosystem services (e.g., habitat provisioning, tree regeneration, and pollination). We believe that combining both studies (i.e., phylogenetic vs. functional diversity) will give us a better understanding of the biogeography of European forest plants. We are also planning on applying our approach to other European habitats such as grasslands or shrublands.

If you could study any organism on earth, what would it be and why? I like to think of life on Earth as a complex network of interactions among different organisms. Ideally, I would like to investigate more about these interactions, particularly between plants and fungi, and between plants and humans, in both directions. I have a special predilection for Mediterranean plants, the region where I am originally from.

Anything else? This project was like a dream come true. I am honoured that I had the opportunity to work with these data. Many people before me had spent a lot of time to collect it and put it together. Furthermore, I felt like I owed this effort to the forests. I always go to the forest when I need to relax and recharge my batteries. It is where I feel most connected to the Earth.

Published by jbiogeography

Contributing to the growth and societal relevance of the discipline of biogeography through dissemination of biogeographical research.

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