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Keywords:

  • Disturbance;
  • endemic species;
  • plant abundance;
  • plant distribution;
  • plant diversity;
  • rainfall;
  • ruderal species;
  • tropical forest;
  • Upper Guinea;
  • West Africa

Abstract

Aim  To understand the distribution pattern of endemic plant species in West African rain forests, one of the global priority areas for biodiversity conservation.

Location  Upper Guinean forests, West Africa (Senegal, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana and Togo).

Methods  We used herbarium collections from the whole Upper Guinean region (sensu White 1981) to analyse the distribution patterns of 216 vascular plant species (approximately one-third of the endemic flora ranging from herbs to trees) that are restricted to these rain forests. We related species distribution ranges and species commonness to the main environmental variables and species life-history traits.

Results  We found that most endemic species of West African forests have large distribution ranges and ruderal strategies. Among all plant life-forms, species with small ranges were restricted to very moist places whereas more widespread species were less dependent on the availability of water. These more common species seem able to tolerate drier conditions, indicated by the minimum rainfall conditions where they are found and the positive correlation with local habitat openness. Light-demanding endemics were more common and widespread than shade-tolerant species, and there was a trend towards wind-dispersed species having a higher proportion of records in open places. This suggests that how widespread and common an endemic species is depends on being able to tolerate open and drier conditions.

Main conclusions  A ruderal strategy seems to be key for understanding the success of endemics in the Upper Guinean forests, and indicates the important role of disturbances in shaping the composition of these tropical forests. Our results have large implications for predicting the potential effect of increasing drought on rare endemic plant species of West African forests.