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Testing the niche-breadth-range-size hypothesis: habitat specialization vs. performance in Australian alpine daisies.

  • Author(s): Hirst, Megan J
  • Griffin, Philippa C
  • Sexton, Jason P
  • Hoffmann, Ary A
  • et al.

Published Web Location

https://doi.org/10.1002/ecy.1964
Abstract

Relatively common species within a clade are expected to perform well across a wider range of conditions than their rarer relatives, yet experimental tests of this "niche-breadth-range-size" hypothesis remain surprisingly scarce. Rarity may arise due to trade-offs between specialization and performance across a wide range of environments. Here we use common garden and reciprocal transplant experiments to test the niche-breadth-range-size hypothesis, focusing on four common and three rare endemic alpine daisies (Brachyscome spp.) from the Australian Alps. We used three experimental contexts: (1) alpine reciprocal seedling experiment, a test of seedling survival and growth in three alpine habitat types differing in environmental quality and species diversity; (2) warm environment common garden, a test of whether common daisy species have higher growth rates and phenotypic plasticity, assessed in a common garden in a warmer climate and run simultaneously with experiment 1; and (3) alpine reciprocal seed experiment, a test of seed germination capacity and viability in the same three alpine habitat types as in experiment 1. In the alpine reciprocal seedling experiment, survival of all species was highest in the open heathland habitat where overall plant diversity is high, suggesting a general, positive response to a relatively productive, low-stress environment. We found only partial support for higher survival of rare species in their habitats of origin. In the warm environment common garden, three common daisies exhibited greater growth and biomass than two rare species, but the other rare species performed as well as the common species. In the alpine reciprocal seed experiment, common daisies exhibited higher germination across most habitats, but rare species maintained a higher proportion of viable seed in all conditions, suggesting different life history strategies. These results indicate that some but not all rare, alpine endemics exhibit stress tolerance at the cost of reduced growth rates in low-stress environments compared to common species. Finally, these findings suggest the seed stage is important in the persistence of rare species, and they provide only weak support at the seedling stage for the niche-breadth-range-size hypothesis.

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