The biology and ecology of narrow endemic and widespread plants: a comparative study of trait variation in 20 congeneric pairs


  • Sébastien Lavergne,

  • John D. Thompson,

  • Eric Garnier,

  • Max Debussche

S. Lavergne, J. D. Thompson, E. Garnier and M. Debussche, Centre d'Ecologie Fonctionnelle et Evolutive, CNRS, 1919 route de Mende, FR-34293 Montpellier cedex 5, France. Present address for SL: Dept of Botany and Agricultural Biochemistry, Univ. of Vermont, 233 Marsh Life Sciences Building, 109 Carrigan Drive, Burlington, VT 05405, USA (


The objective of this study is to examine whether habitat, herbivory and traits related to resource acquisition, resource conservation, reproduction and dispersal differ between narrow endemic plant species and their widespread congeners. We undertook pairwise contrasts of 25 ecological characteristics and biological traits in 20 congeneric pairs of narrow endemic and widespread plant species in the French Mediterranean region. Within each pair, the two species had the same life-form, pollination mode and dispersal mode. Endemic species differed significantly from widespread congeners for a number of attributes. Endemic species occur in habitats on steeper slopes, with higher rock cover and in lower and more open vegetation than their widespread congeners. Endemic species are significantly smaller than widespread species, but show no differences in traits related to resource acquisition (specific leaf area, leaf nitrogen content, maximum photosynthetic rate) or resource conservation (leaf dry matter content). After accounting for their smaller stature, endemic species produce fewer and smaller flowers with less stigma-anther separation and lower pollen/ovule ratios and produce fewer seeds per plant than their widespread congeners. No consistent variation in seed mass and propagule structure was found between congeneric species. Herbivory levels did not differ between congeneric species. Ecological characteristics, notably the occupation of rocky habitats with low aboveground competition, may thus have played an important role in the differentiation of narrow endemic species in the Western Mediterranean. Morphological and ecophysiological traits of narrow endemic species indicate that they are not more stress-tolerant than their widespread congeners. Lower investment in pollen transfer and seed production suggest that local persistence is a key feature of the population ecology of narrow endemic species.