de Bello, F., Berg, M.P., Dias, A.T.C., Diniz-Filho, J.A.F., Götzenberger, L., Hortal, J., Ladle, R.J. & Lepš, J. (2015) On the need for phylogenetic ‘corrections’ in functional trait-based approaches. Folia Geobotanica, 50, 349-357. doi:10.1007/s12224-015-9228-6
There is considerable uncertainty about if, and when, phylogenetic information is needed to answer various ecological questions about trait-based ecological studies. It has been recommended that both functional and phylogenetic information should be combined, and some researchers have even suggested that functional information for species should be ‘corrected’ because species are not phylogenetically independent. Here, we address these issues by identifying key types of questions in functional trait-based ecology and discussing the utility of phylogenetic information for answering them, either as a correction or in combination with functional traits. Phylogenetic analyses are identified as essential to answer questions related to the evolution of adaptations to abiotic and biotic conditions. However, we argue that phylogenetic information is not always relevant for functional trait studies, and should not be incorporated into ecological analyses without clear justification. Phylogenetic relatedness between species should not be considered a bias to be corrected, but rather an evolutionary signal that allows results to be interpreted at different evolutionary scales. Furthermore, if traits are conserved, phylogeny can be used as a proxy for missing information on traits and functional trait diversity. We conclude by providing guidelines on when to apply, and how to interpret, results obtained using phylogenetic information for a variety of ecological questions linked to functional traits.