Main content area

The value of structuring rarity: the seven types and links to reproductive ecology

Espeland, Erin K., Emam, Taraneh M.
Biodiversity and conservation 2011 v.20 no.5 pp. 963
plant ecology, geographical distribution, reproductive traits, plant genetics, habitats, population density
Since 1981, 365 papers have cited a rarity matrix organized along three axes: geographic range (GR) (large vs. small), habitat specificity (HS) (specialist vs. generalist), and local abundance (LA) (dense vs. sparse). In the wider ecology literature, research on the association between plant species distributions and life history traits has mainly focused on a single axis such as GR. However, the internal structure of species ranges is widely recognized as important. In order to determine if identifying different types of rarity leads to alternative conclusions regarding the causes and consequences of rarity, we created a dataset linking the seven types of rarity matrix and to reproductive ecology traits. We found associations between the axes and these traits in a dataset of 101 rare plant species culled from 27 papers. Significant traits included mating system and seed dispersal mechanism. Species with small GR are more likely to have ballistic or wind dispersal than biotically-mediated dispersal (abiotic:biotic ratio 3:1). Habitat specialist species with small GRs are more likely to have outcrossing mating systems compared to habitat specialists of large GR (16:1). These results show that, within rare species, the structure of rarity is important (e.g. habitat specialization is different from small GR) and should be identified when determining basic mechanisms of plant distribution and abundance.