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Convergence in the distribution patterns of Europe’s plants and mammals is due to environmental forcing

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Aim  Our aims were to test: (1) the extent to which vascular plant associations are related in space to mammalian associations, and (2) whether the plant associations are more closely related than the mammalian associations to climate and to a published environmental stratification of Europe.

Location  Europe, as defined by the following boundaries: 11° W, 32° E, 71° N and 35° N.

Methods  The analysis is based on presence/absence records of mammal species and plant species with a resolution of 50 km × 50 km. The similarity of the overall spatial structure was tested using a partial Mantel test while controlling for the effect of geographical proximity. To further identify the main spatial components in the datasets, we used k‐means clustering and principal components analysis. The resulting geographical patterns were compared with one another, with climate variables and with the environmental stratification of Europe.

Results  The clustering of the plant data forms coherent areas that can be interpreted as reflections of floristic regions that are controlled to a large extent by climate and topography. In terms of the correlation between distance matrices, the relationship between plants and mammals is relatively strong. The relationships between mammals and climate, and between plants and climate, are more complex but always statistically significant. There is no evidence that the plant clusters are more closely related than the mammalian clusters to climate, although plant clusters are closer to environmental data than to climate.

Main conclusions  The clustering patterns of mammals and plants form groups that agree with one another in their spatial extent. The forcing of floristic patterns into coherent entities appears mainly to be caused by climatic variables (temperature, temperature range and rainfall), mediated by elevation differences. The formation of individual plant clusters is also related to species numbers and to local and regional floristic differences. The close correlation between the floristic and faunal patterns suggests that the mammal and plant distributions are controlled by the same environmental variables, although the extent to which the mammals are controlled directly by climate or through the influence of vegetation requires more detailed study.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: HIIT, Department of Computer and Information Science, Aalto University, PO Box 15400, FI-00076 Aalto, Espoo, Finland 2: The Finnish Museum of Natural History, PO Box 26, FI-00014 University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland 3: NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Maclean Building, Benson Lane, Crowmarsh Gifford, Wallingford, Oxfordshire OX10 8BB, UK

Publication date: 2012-09-01

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