Evolutionary ecologists are increasingly combining phylogenetic data with distributional and ecological data to assess how and why communities of species differ from random expectations for evolutionary and ecological relatedness. Of particular interest have been the roles of environmental filtering and competitive interactions, or alternatively neutral effects, in dictating community composition. Our goal is to place current research within a dynamic framework, specifically using recent phylogenetic studies from insular environments to provide an explicit spatial and temporal context. We compare communities over a range of evolutionary, ecological and geographic scales that differ in the extent to which speciation and adaptation contribute to community assembly and structure. This perspective allows insights into the processes that can generate community structure, as well as the evolutionary dynamics of community assembly.