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Geographic variability of ecological niches of plant species: are competition and stress relevant?


  • Andreas Prinzing,

  • Walter Durka,

  • Stefan Klotz,

  • Roland Brandl

A. Prinzing (, W. Durka, S. Klotz and R. Brandl, UFZ – Centre for Environmental Research Leipzig-Halle Ltd., Dept of Community Ecology, Theodor-Lieser-Str. 4, D-06120 Halle (Saale), Germany. Present address of A. P.: Dept V (Ecology), Inst. of Zoology, Univ. of Mainz, Becherweg 13, D-55099 Mainz, Germany, present address of R. B.: Dept of Animal Ecology, Fac. of Biology, Univ. of Marburg, Karl-von-Frisch-Str. 1, D-35032 Marburg, Germany.


A species’ niche position may differ strongly between geographic regions, for instance due to the effect of competitors or ecophysiological stress. However, it is unclear whether such strong geographic niche variation is the rule or the exception. We compared the niche positions of plant species between central England and eastern central Europe (as available from the literature), using phylogenetically independent contrasts. We found that most species occupied similar niche positions in both regions. More importantly, we found that niche variation was not higher in species susceptible to competitive displacement. Nor was niche variation higher in species that reach the edge of their range and thus suffer ecophysiological stress. We suggest that although these species might be easily displaced in their position along a niche axis, they may only be displaced over a short distance. Overall, ecological mechanisms that cause niche variation at the local scale may be much less relevant at the geographic scale.