Disjunct populations of European vascular plant species keep the same climatic niches

Safaa Wasof, Jonathan Lenoir, Per Arild Aarrestad, Inger Greve Alsos, W. Scott Armbruster, Gunnar Austrheim, Vegar Bakkestuen, H. John B. Birks, Kari Anne Bråthen, Olivier Broennimann, Jörg Brunet, Hans Henrik Bruun, Carl Johan Dahlberg, Martin Diekmann, Stefan Dullinger, Mats Dynesius, Rasmus Ejrnaes, Jean-claude Gégout, Bente Jessen Graae, John-arvid GrytnesAntoine Guisan, Kristoffer Hylander, Ingibjörg S. Jónsdóttir, Jutta Kapfer, Kari Klanderud, Miska Luoto, Ann Milbau, Mari Moora, Bettina Nygaard, Arvid Odland, Harald Pauli, Virve Ravolainen, Stefanie Reinhardt, Sylvi Marlen Sandvik, Fride Høistad Schei, James D. M. Speed, Jens-christian Svenning, Wilfried Thuiller, Liv Unn Tveraabak, Vigdis Vandvik, Liv Guri Velle, Risto Virtanen, Pascal Vittoz, Wolfgang Willner, Thomas Wohlgemuth, Niklaus E. Zimmermann, Martin Zobel, Guillaume Decocq

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Aim Previous research on how climatic niches vary across species ranges has focused on a limited number of species, mostly invasive, and has not, to date, been very conclusive. Here we assess the degree of niche conservatism between distant populations of native alpine plant species that have been separated for thousands of years.LocationEuropean Alps and Fennoscandia. 
Methods Of the studied pool of 888 terrestrial vascular plant species occurring in both the Alps and Fennoscandia, we used two complementary approaches to test and quantify climatic-niche shifts for 31 species having strictly disjunct populations and 358 species having either a contiguous or a patchy distribution with distant populations. First, we used species distribution modelling to test for a region effect on each species' climatic niche. Second, we quantified niche overlap and shifts in niche width (i.e. ecological amplitude) and position (i.e. ecological optimum) within a bi-dimensional climatic space. 
Results Only one species (3%) of the 31 species with strictly disjunct populations and 58 species (16%) of the 358 species with distant populations showed a region effect on their climatic niche. Niche overlap was higher for species with strictly disjunct populations than for species with distant populations and highest for arctic–alpine species. Climatic niches were, on average, wider and located towards warmer and wetter conditions in the Alps. 
Main conclusion Climatic niches seem to be generally conserved between populations that are separated between the Alps and Fennoscandia and have probably been so for 10,000–15,000 years. Therefore, the basic assumption of species distribution models that a species' climatic niche is constant in space and time – at least on time scales 104 years or less – seems to be largely valid for arctic–alpine plants.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1401-1412
JournalGlobal Ecology and Biogeography
Issue number12
Early online date15 Sept 2015
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2015


  • Alpine plants
  • arctic plants
  • climatic niche
  • disjunct distribution
  • distant populations
  • niche conservatism
  • niche optimum
  • niche overlap
  • niche width
  • species distribution modelling


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