Identifying plant functional types using floristic data bases: Ecological correlates of plant range size



Abstract. In an effort to identify ‘plant functional types’, the islands floras of Great Britain and Kríti (Crete, Greece) were examined separately for ecological correlates of plant range size. Plant functional types (PFTs) were defined here as categories into which plants could be grouped on the basis of attributes that predict greater or lesser sensitivity to ecological variability. Plant range size indicates commonness of a species and was assumed to be a proxy for ‘ecological flexibility’, i.e. species of larger range sizes can better withstand environmental change and differences than species of smaller range sizes. Using evolutionary comparative methods that account for the effect of taxonomic relatedness, both floras were investigated for the effects on range size of woodiness vs. non-woodiness, trees vs. shrubs, trees vs. herbs and shrubs vs. herbs. The British flora was examined additionally for the effects of wind- vs. non-wind-pollination, self vs. animal pollination and animal vs. non-animal fruit dispersal on range size.

Two analyses showed significant effects on range size: for British species, trees had larger ranges than shrubs, and wind- pollinated species had larger ranges than non-wind-pollinated species. It is suggested that the lack of a similar pattern for shrubs and trees in Kríti is because the lower water availability of Kríti imbues shrubs with an ecophysiological advantage not relevant in plants of Great Britain. That trees have larger range sizes than shrubs in Great Britain is ascribed to the greater importance of competition for light when other factors are not at issue. The greater range of wind-pollinated than non-windpollinated species in Great Britain is postulated to be because both mutualists must be capable of invading new areas. This may be termed a ‘cost of mutualism’.

In terms of PFTs, the results indicate that ‘life-form’ is too broad a classification category by which to differentiate relative sensitivity to environmental variability in Great Britain, in that there were significant differences in range size of trees and shrubs, but not between either of the two categories and herbs, or between woody and non-woody plants. Although pollination type may predict relative sensitivity to variation in Great Britain, dispersal type will not. Finally, differences between Great Britain and Kríti in relative range size patterns suggests that plant functional types may be specific to a region or set of conditions.