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Acido‐ and neutrophilic temperate forest plants display distinct shifts in ecological pH niche across north‐western Europe

Reinecke, J., Wulf, M., Baeten, L., Brunet, J., Decocq, G., De Frenne, P., Diekmann, M., Graae, B. J., Heinken, T., Hermy, M., Jamoneau, A., Lenoir, J., Plue, J., Orczewska, A., Van Calster, H., Verheyen, K., Naaf, T.
Ecography 2016 v.39 no.12 pp. 1164-1175
acid soils, climatic factors, latitude, models, niches, nitrogen, soil pH, species diversity, temperate forests, France, Northern European region, Sweden
Ecological niches of organisms vary across geographical space, but niche shift patterns between regions and the underlying mechanisms remain largely unexplored. We studied shifts in the pH niche of 42 temperate forest plant species across a latitudinal gradient from northern France to boreo‐nemoral Sweden. We asked 1) whether species restrict their niches with increasing latitude as they reach their northern range margin (environmental constraints); 2) whether species expand their niches with increasing latitude as regional plant species richness decreases (competitive release); and 3) whether species shift their niche position toward more acidic sites with increasing latitude as the relative proportion of acidic soils increases (local adaptation). Based on 1458 vegetation plots and corresponding soil pH values, we modelled species response curves using Huisman–Olff–Fresco models. Four niche measures (width, position, left and right border) were compared among regions by randomization tests. We found that with increasing latitude, neutrophilic species tended to retreat from acidic sites, indicating that these species retreat to more favorable sites when approaching their range margin. Alternatively, these species might benefit from enhanced nitrogen deposition on formerly nutrient‐poor, acidic sites in southern regions or lag behind in post‐glacial recolonization of potential habitats in northern regions. Most acidophilic species extended their niche toward more base‐rich sites with increasing latitude, indicating competitive release from neutrophilic species. Alternatively, acidophilic species might benefit from optimal climatic conditions in the north where some have their core distribution area. Shifts in the niche position suggested that local adaptation is of minor importance. We conclude that shifts in the pH niche of temperate forest plants are the rule, but the directions of the niche shifts and possible explanations vary. Our study demonstrates that differentiating between acidophilic and neutrophilic species is crucial to identify general patterns and underlying mechanisms.