Plant communities provide numerous benefits to humans, filtering our air and water and sequestering carbon. Understanding the mechanisms that structure plant communities is thus increasingly important as humans change landscapes and climate.
Plants are highly diverse, and have evolved many strategies for attracting pollinators, influencing soil microbes, and otherwise "behaving" in ways that structure their environment. Evolution has shaped this diversity. Incorporating information about evolutionary history (phylogeny) into our ecological studies will thus help us answer exciting new questions, such as:
(1) What makes some introduced species invasive, spreading rapidly in the introduced range and causing harm, while closely related species might fail to invade (e.g. Burns 2006, Burns et al. 2011, Burns et al. 2013, Murphy et al. 2016)?
(2) How might relatedness shape plant-soil interactions (e.g. Burns and Strauss 2011, Burns et al. 2015, Sweet and Burns 2017)? How might plant-soil interactions, and the soil heterogeneity they create, influence coexistence (e.g. Brandt et al. 2013, Burns and Brandt 2014, Brandt et al. 2015, del Pino et al. 2015, Burns et al. 2017)?
(3) How does evolution shape plant trait integration in Rhododendron (Mederios et al. 2017)?