A phylogenetically-informed trait-based analysis of range change in the vascular plant flora of Britain
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- Powney, G.D., Rapacciuolo, G., Preston, C.D. et al. Biodivers Conserv (2014) 23: 171. doi:10.1007/s10531-013-0590-5
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Species distributions are changing, and knowing whether certain character traits predispose species to decline or increase during times of environmental change can shed light on the main drivers of distribution change. Here we conduct a trait-based analysis of range change in the flora of Britain since the 1930s using some of the best plant distribution and trait data available in Europe. We use phylogenetically-informed models based on a recently published, dated, species level plant phylogeny. Traits associated with habitat specialism and competitive ability were related to range change, with more competitive habitat generalists faring better than habitat specialists. We attribute this result to the greater ability of generalists to adapt to environmental perturbation, but also to the negative impacts of agricultural intensification on the flora of Britain, in particular the loss of open, dry habitats. We discovered spatial variation in the main drivers of plant range change and find support for previous evidence that agricultural intensification has been a major driver of distribution change in the flora of Britain over the past 70 years, particularly in southern England.