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Elevational gradients of species diversity, breeding system and floral traits of orchid species on Réunion Island

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Abstract Aim 

This research investigates changes in orchid species composition and diversity, plant breeding system and floral traits along an elevational gradient spanning 2300 m (200–2500 m). Location 

The study was conducted on Réunion Island (Mascarene Islands, Indian Ocean). Methods 

Data on the distribution of 135 orchid species from 35 genera were gathered from 121 localities situated between 200 and 2500 m a.s.l. For each locality, 500-m transects were walked and each orchid species was recorded. Measures of species diversity (species richness, a modified Shannon diversity index and the modified Shannon equitability index) were related to altitude using ordinary least-squares regression. Species turnover and elevational gradients in species composition were determined by: (1) relating scores of detrended correspondence analysis to altitude using ordinary least-squares regression, and (2) relating Sørensen similarity indices to differences in altitude using Mantel tests. Finally, the average proportion of species displaying similar floral traits or showing the same breeding system were compared among altitudinal zones. Results 

Species richness per transect ranged from 1 to 36 species (mean 14.3) and decreased significantly with increasing altitude. Similarly, species evenness decreased significantly with increasing altitude. Around 50% of all orchid species were rare (occurred in fewer than 5% of all localities), and only a few occurred in more than 50% of all localities. Orchid species composition changed continuously with altitude, indicating turnover of species with increasing altitude. Analogously, orchid breeding systems and floral traits also changed with altitude. Relatively more auto-pollinating species were found at high altitudes compared with mid- and low-altitude sites where animal-pollinated species were most abundant. Species characterized by a cleistogamous pollination system were found almost exclusively in high-altitude sites, whereas the proportion of species displaying floral traits related to pollination by long-tongued moths (sphinx) and flies sharply decreased with increasing altitude. Main conclusions 

Environmental conditions associated with altitude exert a large influence on orchid species composition and the distribution of orchid breeding systems. Our results revealed a high proportion of auto-pollinating species, and confirm earlier findings that auto-pollinating species are more frequent in high-altitude sites.
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Keywords: Breeding system evolution; Indian Ocean; Mascarene Islands; Orchidaceae; elevational gradient; floral traits; island colonization; species composition; species turnover

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Université de la Réunion, UMR C53 Cirad-Université, Peuplements Végétaux et Bioaggresseurs en Milieu Tropical, Saint-Denis Messag, Cedex 9, La Réunion, France 2: Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, Surrey, UK

Publication date: 2005-10-01

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