Similar performance in central and range-edge populations of a Eurasian steppe grass under different climate and soil pH regimes

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The abundant centre hypothesis predicts that changing environmental conditions are detrimental to a species' abundance and performance towards the periphery of its range. We tested these predictions for the perennial grass Stipa capillata, a species that is commonly found in steppes of Asia but is rare at its north-western range edge, in central Europe. We compared 21 populations in dry grassland fragments in central Europe and 20 populations in steppe habitats of Kazakhstan. We studied 15 plant performance traits both in situ and under laboratory and common greenhouse conditions, including local density, plant size and biomass production, seed size, weight and viability. To assess environmental conditions, we assembled data on topography, soil properties and climatic parameters. Using variance components analysis and multivariate methods we analyzed whether plant performance and environmental attributes differed more, as predicted, between the core and peripheral regions or whether they differed more among their subregions or populations. Additionally, we tested whether performance was affected by the same set of environmental predictors in each region. Contrary to our expectations, plant performance traits were virtually unchanged between the range periphery and centre. As expected, macroclimatic conditions showed a significant difference between the two regions (annual mean temperature, annual precipitation). The only other measured environmental variable that differed significantly between the two regions was soil pH, which was lower in core-range populations. Our findings thus do not support the notion of reduced performance at the range edge. Instead, our data lend support to earlier theories of relative habitat constancy, suggesting that peripheral populations can shift to other habitats through plasticity or adaptation
Original languageEnglish
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)498-506
Number of pages9
Publication statusPublished - 06.2011