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Correlates of geographic range size in New Zealand Chionochloa (Poaceae) species

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Abstract Aim

To test for correlations between plant traits and geographic range size. Location: New Zealand. Methods

Trait data were derived from comparative experiments, in which plants were grown in pots or in a common garden, that tested for intrinsic differences among the species in traits relating to growth, reproduction and dispersal. Controlled experiments were used to test for differences in responses to drought and waterlogging stress. Geographic range size was measured as the number of 10 km grid squares in the New Zealand region containing at least one occurrence of the species. Results

Growth rate, dispersal capacity and environmental tolerance were all positively related to geographic range size. Geographically restricted species tended to have more variable flowering between years. Flowering intensity, reproductive allocation, seed set, diaspore size, and responses to single environmental factors were not related to geographic range size. Main conclusions

The differences between range-restricted and widespread Chionochloa species appear to represent alternative strategies of coping with environmental change in a dynamic landscape. Range-restricted species are specialized to temporally persistent habitats that are of limited geographic extent. As a consequence, they have evolved traits that conflict with persistence in widespread habitats. The implication for conservation management is that the conservation of rare plants will frequently depend on protection of their habitats. The widespread Chionochloa species possess traits that enable them to disperse to and occupy a greater range of habitats. These traits have allowed some of these species to expand their ranges following environmental changes that favoured an increase in grassland extent.
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Keywords: Anthropogenic habitats; commonness; conservation; dispersal; drought; habitat range; pre-adaptation; rarity; relative growth rate; reproductive allocation; seed size; stress; waterlogging

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Botany Department, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand 2: Landcare Research, Dunedin, New Zealand

Publication date: November 1, 2003

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