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Frontiers of Biogeography

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Investigating elevational gradients of species richness in a Mediterranean plant hotspot using a published flora


The Apuan Alps are one of the most peculiar mountain chain in the Mediterranean, being very close to the coastline and reaching an elevation of almost 2000 m. Based on published flora, we investigated the distribution of plant species richness along the whole elevational gradient of this chain considering: (i) all species, (ii) endemic versus alien species; and (iii) functional groups of species based on Raunkiær life forms (RLF). Generalized Linear Models (GLMs) were used to analyse richness patterns along the elevational gradient, and elevational richness models versus the area of the elevational belts were fitted to test the effect of surface area. Our results showed decreasing species richness with increasing elevation. In contrast, endemic species richness increased along the elevational gradient. Alien species were mainly distributed at low elevations, but this result should be taken with caution since we used historical data. Species life forms were not equally distributed along the elevation gradient: chamaephytes and hemicryptophytes were the richest groups at high elevations, while therophytes showed highest species richness at low elevations. Our findings suggest that in the Apuan Alps there is a major elevational gradient in species composition that could reflect plant evolutionary history. Furthermore, we highlight the key role of published floras as a relevant source of biodiversity data.

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