Life-history traits are correlated with geographical distribution patterns of western European forest herb species


*Sebastiaan Van der Veken, Division Forest, Nature and Landscape, University of Leuven, Celestijnenlaan 200E, B-3001 Heverlee, Belgium.


Aim  To investigate whether six plant life-history traits that have been related to colonization ability at local scales are also related to the geographical range characteristics of 273 forest plant species.

Location  Continental western Europe, five countries in particular: France, Luxemburg, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany. The region is situated between 42° and 55°N and 5°W and 15°E and has a summed total area of 971,404 km2.

Methods  Distribution data were compiled from five national data bases and converted to a 10′ grid. Life-history traits were taken from existing compilations of autecological information of European species. The spatial arrangement of occupied grid cells was investigated using Ripley's K. Cross-species correlations and phylogenetically independent contrasts were used to investigate the relationships between plant life-history traits and three range characteristics: area of occupancy, latitudinal extent and centroid latitude.

Results  For herbaceous species, seed dispersal mode, seed production and seed bank longevity exhibited significant associations with geographical range characteristics, including area of occupancy. Woody plant species exhibited fewer significant associations, although maximum height was positively associated with range centroid latitude within the study area. Furthermore, the ranges of species with limited dispersal ability were found to be more clustered than the ranges of species with morphological adaptations for long-distance seed dispersal.

Main conclusions  For western European forest plant species, life-history traits that are related to colonization ability at local scales are associated with variation in large-scale geographical range characteristics. This finding implies that the distributions of some forest plant species in the study area may be limited by seed dispersal and colonization capacity rather than climate or other environmental factors.