New paper accepted – Trait-based analysis of decline in plant species ranges during the 20th century: a regional comparison between the UK and Estonia

A manuscript by Lauri Laanisto (member of ÜN´s lab), Marek Sammul, Tiiu Kull, Petr Macek and Michael J. Hutchings has been accepted for publication in Global Change Ecology. This study is a bit different comparing with the regular output of Niinemets´ lab and concentrates more on ecological and conservational aspects of changes in vegetation. More about it, when it comes out in press. For a teaser, here is the Abstract:


Although the distribution ranges and abundance of many plant species have declined dramatically in recent decades, detailed analysis of these changes and their cause have only become possible following the publication of second and third generation national distribution atlases. Decline can now be compared both between species, and in different parts of species’ ranges.

We extracted data from distribution atlases to compare range persistence of 736 plant species common to both the UK and Estonia between survey periods encompassing almost the same years (1969 and 1999 in the UK, and 1970 and 2004 in Estonia). We determined which traits were most closely associated with variation in species persistence, whether these were the same in each country and the extent to which they explained differences in persistence between the countries.

Mean range size declined less in Estonia than in the UK (24.3% vs. 30.3%). One-third of species in Estonia (239) maintained >90% of their distribution range compared with one-fifth (141) in the UK. In Estonia, 99 species lost >50% of their range compared with 127 species in the UK. Persistence was very positively related to original range in both countries. Major differences in species persistence between the studied countries were primarily determined by biogeographic (affiliation to floristic element) and eco-evolutionary (plant strategy) factors. In contrast, within-country persistence was most strongly determined by tolerance of anthropogenic activities. Decline of species in the families Orchidaceae and Potamogetonaceae was significantly greater in the UK than in Estonia.

Almost all of the 736 common and native European plant species in our study are currently declining in their range due to pressure from anthropogenic activities. Those species with low tolerance of human activity, with biotic pollination vectors and in the families referred to above are the most vulnerable, especially where population density is high.

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