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Keywords:

  • Anthropogenic disturbance;
  • bioclimatic niche;
  • climate change;
  • distribution shift;
  • global change;
  • historical biogeography;
  • Lactuca serriola;
  • prickly lettuce;
  • species range

Abstract

Aim  The distribution range of Lactuca serriola, a species native to the summer-dry mediterranean climate, has expanded northwards during the last 250 years. This paper assesses the influence of climate on the range expansion of this species and highlights the importance of anthropogenic disturbance to its spread.

Location  Central and Northern Europe.

Methods  Data on the geographic distribution of L. serriola were assembled through a literature search as well as through floristic and herbarium surveys. Maps of the spread of L. serriola in Central and Northern Europe were prepared based on herbarium data. The spread was assessed more precisely in Germany, Austria and Great Britain by pooling herbarium and literature data. We modelled the bioclimatic niche of the species using occurrence and climatic data covering the last century to generate projections of suitable habitats under the climatic conditions of five time periods. We tested whether the observed distribution of L. serriola could be explained for each time period, assuming that the climatic niche of the species was conserved across time.

Results  The species has spread northwards since the beginning of the 19th century. We show that climate warming in Europe increased the number of sites suitable for the species at northern latitudes. Until the late 1970s, the distribution of the species corresponded to the climatically suitable sites available. For the last two decades, however, we could not show any significant relationship between the increase in suitable sites and the distributional range change of L. serriola. However, we highlight potential areas the species could spread to in the future (Great Britain, southern Scandinavia and the Swedish coast). It is predominantly non-climatic influences of global change that have contributed to its rapid spread.

Main conclusions  The observation that colonizing species are not filling their climatically suitable range might imply that, potentially, other ruderal species could expand far beyond their current range. Our work highlights the importance of historical floristic and herbarium data for understanding the expansion of a species. Such historical distributional data can provide valuable information for those planning the management of contemporary environmental problems, such as species responses to environmental change.