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Disentangling ecological traits related to plant endemism, rarity and conservation status in the Iberian Peninsula


The Iberian Peninsula and the Balearic Islands are home to 1823 endemic taxa of vascular plants (nearly a quarter of total flora), half of which are narrowly distributed. Here, we explore the ecological traits related to endemism and rarity, and identify the variables other than range size associated with the conservation status. As found in other studies, narrow endemics seem to be prevalently adapted to stressful habitats in which aboveground competition is relatively low. In ecological terms, the greatest richness is found in mid-altitude calcareous rocky habitats, and secondarily in open Mediterranean shrubby formations. Coastal, steppic and alpine habitats contribute to endemism in specific regions and the species that inhabit them tend to have small ranges. A large percentage of narrow endemics (19%) grow on special substrates, underlying the importance of edaphic islands as drivers of spatial isolation. More productive habitats such as grasslands, wetlands and forests are negatively associated with endemism, and endemics occurring therein tend to be widely distributed. A total of 454 endemic taxa (25% of total endemics) are regarded as threatened, most of which belong to species-rich lineages. Certain ecological settings appear to be more likely to contain threatened species than others, wet lowlands, coastal habitats and steppic scrub being the most significant in decreasing order. Paradoxically, the areas of occupancy of the species occurring therein are relatively less protected. On the contrary, a large proportion of montane and alpine habitats are protected and many endemics found there are regarded as non-threatened at present. Nevertheless, some centers of endemism located at high elevations are at risk due to global warming.

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We thank all the authors of the taxonomic treatments of Flora iberica, used to compile the list of the Iberian and Balearic endemic vascular flora, as well as all the authors of the Spanish and Portuguese Red Lists which thoroughly catalogued the plant species. We also thank to M. Porto and X. Font to provide us data from Flora-on and BDBC respectively.


This work has been funded by the Spanish Government through the Flora iberica project (CGL2017-85204-C3-1-P).

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First author designed the study, processed and analyzed the data and wrote the manuscript. Both other authors contributed to the final version of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Antoni Buira.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Communicated by Daniel Sanchez Mata.

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Buira, A., Cabezas, F. & Aedo, C. Disentangling ecological traits related to plant endemism, rarity and conservation status in the Iberian Peninsula. Biodivers Conserv 29, 1937–1958 (2020).

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  • Range size
  • Threatened plants
  • Vulnerable habitats
  • Red list
  • Checklist
  • Edaphic specialization