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

Janne Alahuhta, Antti Virtala, Jan Hjort, Frauke Ecke, Lucinda B. Johnson, Laura Sass, Jani Heino

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


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.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)219-235
Number of pages17
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 1 2017


  • INHS
  • Climate
  • Niche width
  • Aquatic plants
  • Water quality
  • Lakes
  • Latitude

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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