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Colonization of Sphagnum on land uplift islands in the Baltic Sea: time, area, distance and life history


*Sebastian Sundberg, Department of Plant Ecology, Evolutionary Biology Centre, Uppsala University, Villavägen 14, SE-752 36 Uppsala, Sweden.


Aim  To test whether species richness of Sphagnum mosses on islands in a land uplift archipelago is related to island age, area or connectivity, and whether the frequency of different species can be predicted by their life history and autecology.

Location  The northern Stockholm archipelago in the Baltic Sea, east-central Sweden, with a current land uplift rate of 4.4 mm year−1.

Methods  We sampled 17 islands differing in area (0.55–55 ha), height (3.6–18 m, representing c. 800–4000 years of age) and distance from mainland (1.6–41 km). For each Sphagnum patch we measured area, height above sea level, horizontal distance from the shore and shading from vascular plants. Factors affecting island species richness, species frequency and habitats on the islands were tested by stepwise regressions. Species frequency was tested on nine life history and autecological variables, including estimated abundance and spore output on the mainland, habitat preference and distribution.

Results  We recorded 500 patches of 19 Sphagnum species, distributed in 83 rock pools on 14 islands. Island species richness correlated positively with island area and with degree of shelter by surrounding islands, while distance from the mainland, connectivity, height or age did not add to the model. Species frequency (number of colonized islands and rock pools) was mainly predicted by spore output on the mainland and by habitat preference (swamp forest species were more frequent than others), while spore size, for example, did not add to the model. Species differed in mean height above and horizontal distance from the shore, area of occupied rock pools and in the degree of shading of patches. The mean horizontal distance from the shore and the area of occupied rock pools correlated positively with the normal growth position above the water table among species. Spore capsules were found in only 2% of patches, mostly in the bisexual Sphagnum fimbriatum.

Main conclusions  The presence of Sphagnum in the Stockholm archipelago seems to be governed by regional spore production and habitat demands. Sphagnum does not appear to be dispersal limited at distances up to 40 km and time spans of centuries. Species with a high regional spore output have had a higher colonization rate, which, together with the rarity of spore capsules on the islands, indicate the mainland as a source for colonization rather than dispersal among islands. Swamp forest species seem more tolerant to the island conditions (summer droughts and some salt spray) than open mire species. The different distances from the sea occupied by the species indicate a slow, continuous succession and species replacement towards the island interior as islands are being uplifted and thus expand in area. This partly explains why larger islands harbour more species. Our results thus support some of the island biogeographical theories related to the species–area relationship.