Biodiversity and Conservation

, Volume 23, Issue 1, pp 171–185 | Cite as

A phylogenetically-informed trait-based analysis of range change in the vascular plant flora of Britain

  • Gary D. Powney
  • Giovanni Rapacciuolo
  • Christopher D. Preston
  • Andy Purvis
  • David B. Roy
Original Paper


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.


Agricultural intensification Comparative analysis Distribution change Phylogeny Plant traits 



We show great appreciation to all the volunteer recorders that collected the plant data, without which this study would not be possible. We are indebted to the Botanical Society of the British Isles and their network of Vice County Recorders who helped co-ordinated recording for the two atlas datasets used here. We thank Tom Oliver, Michael Pocock, Colin Harrower, Louise Barwell, Will Pearse, Steve Freeman and Nick Isaac for their useful comments regarding data analysis. We would also like to thank Mick Crawley for help regarding plant trait data collation. We thank two anonymous reviewers for constructive comments on an earlier version of this manuscript. This work was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

Supplementary material

10531_2013_590_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (208 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 207 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gary D. Powney
    • 1
    • 2
  • Giovanni Rapacciuolo
    • 3
  • Christopher D. Preston
    • 1
  • Andy Purvis
    • 4
  • David B. Roy
    • 1
  1. 1.NERC Centre for Ecology & HydrologyWallingfordUK
  2. 2.Department of Life SciencesImperial College LondonAscotUK
  3. 3.Berkeley Initiative in Global Change BiologyUniversity of California BerkeleyBerkeleyUSA
  4. 4.Department of Life SciencesNatural History MuseumLondonUK

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