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Ecological niche distribution along soil toxicity gradients: Bridging theoretical expectations and metallophyte conservation

Sylvain Boisson, Arnaud Monty, Maxime Séleck, Mylor Ngoy Shutcha, Michel-Pierre Faucon, Grégory Mahy
Ecological modelling 2020 v.415 pp. 108861
cobalt, copper, hyperaccumulators, mesic conditions, models, niches, soil, soil toxicity, toxicity, vegetation, Republic of the Congo
Ecological niche modelling helps us to understand the spatial assembly of species in heterogeneous environments. Three patterns have been widely reported in the research literature regarding the relationship between realised niches and macronutrient concentration gradients: (1) species’ optima are unevenly distributed, with a higher frequency in mesic conditions; (2) species’ response curves are narrower when optima density is higher; and (3) species with optima at the extremes of the gradients have skewed response curves with a longer tail toward mesic conditions. This study aims to test the existence of these patterns on a vegetation model occurring in metalliferous soils comprising copper and cobalt along a toxicity gradient in south-eastern D.R. Congo. Realised niches of 80 taxa were modelled using generalised additive models. The niche optima and the niche widths were determined for each taxon. Results highlighted three groups which differ according to the niche optima location along the soil metal concentration gradients. The patterns found along macronutrient concentration gradients were, to some extent, transposable along micronutrient concentration gradients. Our findings on the diversity and assembly of realised niches has consequences for plant conservation strategies.