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Rare plants at the extremes of distribution: broadly and narrowly distributed rare species

Abstract

The flora of North America north of Mexico was used to study rare species at the two extremes of geographic distribution: endemic species, those with large local populations but small geographic ranges, and suffusively rare species, those with small local populations but large geographic ranges. The taxonomic distribution, geographic distribution, and life history characteristics of the two groups were compared. Only 2% of North American species are suffusively rare, while 22.6% of species are endemic to one state or province. Suffusively rare species are significantly more likely to be seedless vascular plants and monocots than expected, and are less likely to be eudicots. Conversely, endemic species are more likely to be eudicots, and less likely to be monocots. Suffusively rare species are most abundant in Canada and the northeastern United States, whereas there are few endemic species in those areas. The highest proportions of endemic species are found in California, Florida, and Texas. Wetland habitats support many suffusively rare species, but few endemic species. Neither are common in alpine habitats. Suffusively rare and endemic species also differ in the dominant growth form. Suffusively rare species are most likely to be herbaceous eudicots, and less likely to be shrubs or shrub-herbs. Endemic species are also likely to be herbaceous, but are also frequently shrubs. A high proportion of endemic species exhibit plasticity in growth form, whereas few suffusively rare species have plastic growth forms. While both groups contain rare species, they differ considerably in geographic distribution and life history traits.

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Correspondence to Michele H. Mills.

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Mills, M.H., Schwartz, M.W. Rare plants at the extremes of distribution: broadly and narrowly distributed rare species. Biodivers Conserv 14, 1401–1420 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10531-004-9666-6

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10531-004-9666-6

Keywords

  • Endemism
  • Geographic distribution
  • Growth form
  • Habitat
  • Life span
  • North America
  • Plasticity
  • Rarity
  • Suffusively rare