University of Oulu

Alahuhta, J., Virtala, A., Hjort, J. et al. Oecologia (2017) 184: 219.

Average niche breadths of species in lake macrophyte communities respond to ecological gradients variably in four regions on two continents

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Author: Alahuhta, Janne1,2; Virtala, Antti1; Hjort, Jan1;
Organizations: 1Geography Research Unit, University of Oulu, Oulu, Finland
2Freshwater Centre, Finnish Environment Institute, Oulu, Finland
3Department of Aquatic Sciences and Assessment, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU), Uppsala, Sweden
4Department of Wildlife, Fish and Environmental Studies, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU), Umeå, Sweden
5Natural Resources Research Institute, University of Minnesota Duluth, Duluth, USA
6Illinois Natural History Survey, Prairie Research Institute, University of Illinois, Champaign, USA
7Natural Environment Centre, Biodiversity, Finnish Environment Institute, Oulu, Finland
Format: article
Version: accepted version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 1.2 MB)
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Language: English
Published: Springer Nature, 2017
Publish Date: 2019-06-06


Different species’ niche breadths in relation to ecological gradients are infrequently examined within the same study and, moreover, species niche breadths have rarely been averaged to account for variation in entire ecological communities. We investigated how average environmental niche breadths (climate, water quality and climate–water quality niches) in aquatic macrophyte communities are related to ecological gradients (latitude, longitude, altitude, species richness and lake area) among four distinct regions (Finland, Sweden and US states of Minnesota and Wisconsin) on two continents. We found that correlations between the three different measures of average niche breadths and ecological gradients varied considerably among the study regions, with average climate and average water quality niche breadth models often showing opposite trends. However, consistent patterns were also found, such as widening of average climate niche breadths and narrowing of average water quality niche breadths of aquatic macrophytes along increasing latitudinal and altitudinal gradients. This result suggests that macrophyte species are generalists in relation to temperature variations at higher latitudes and altitudes, whereas species in southern, lowland lakes are more specialised. In contrast, aquatic macrophytes growing in more southern nutrient-rich lakes were generalists in relation to water quality, while specialist species are adapted to low-productivity conditions and are found in highland lakes. Our results emphasise that species niche breadths should not be studied using only coarse-scale data of species distributions and corresponding environmental conditions, but that investigations on different kinds of niche breadths (e.g., climate vs. local niches) also require finer resolution data at broad spatial extents.

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Series: Oecologia
ISSN: 0029-8549
ISSN-E: 1432-1939
ISSN-L: 0029-8549
Volume: 184
Issue: 1
Pages: 219 - 235
DOI: 10.1007/s00442-017-3847-y
Type of Publication: A1 Journal article – refereed
Field of Science: 1172 Environmental sciences
1181 Ecology, evolutionary biology
Funding: This study was supported by grants from the Academy of Finland (267995 and 285040). This is contribution number 607 of the Natural Resources Research institute of the University of Minnesota Duluth.
Academy of Finland Grant Number: 267995
Detailed Information: 267995 (Academy of Finland Funding decision)
285040 (Academy of Finland Funding decision)
Copyright information: © Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2017. This is a post-peer-review, pre-copyedit version of an article published in Oecologia. The final authenticated version is available online at: