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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2022

Hiking trails shift plant species' realized climatic niches and locally increase species richness

Wedegartner, Ronja E. M.; Lembrechts, Jonas J.; van der Wal, Rene; Barros, Agustina; Chauvin, Aurelie; Janssens, Ilias; Graae, Bente Jessen


Aim The presence and use of trails may change plant species' realized climatic niches via modified abiotic and biotic conditions including propagule transport, allowing competition-pressed alpine species to expand their rear edges towards warmer locations and lowland species to extend their leading edges towards cooler locations. We investigated whether mountain trails indeed act as corridors for colonization and shift species' realized climatic niches, resulting in higher species richness in trailsides. Location Dovrefjell and Abisko area in the Scandes mountains of Norway and Sweden. Methods We surveyed plant community composition and disturbances along 16 hiking trails in summer 2018 (Dovrefjell) and 2019 (Abisko). We linked changes in species' realized climatic niches to their climatic optimum and variation in species richness to climate, trail effects and resident plant community characteristics. Results Plant species richness was on average 24% greater in trailside than in interior vegetation plots. Proximity to trails accounted for 9% and climatic harshness for 55% of variation in species richness explained in our model. Trailsides increased in richness, especially in relatively species-poor sites and close to introduction points (each accounting for 24% of variation in our model of species gains). Shifts in rear edges and optima of realized climatic niches along trails related to species' undisturbed climatic optimum, with alpine species being more likely to move into warmer locations. While some disturbance-associated species shifted their leading edges towards colder locations, contrary to expectations this was not the case for lowland species. Overall, shifts in climatic niches resulted in more species' niches overlapping in trailsides than in the interior vegetation. Main conclusion Trails can locally increase species richness by creating opportunities for colonizing species and weaker competitors. Because of prevailing disturbance, they may even provide opportunities for persistence and downward expansion of alpine species, aiding conservation efforts.


alpine plants; biotic interactions; climate gradient; disturbance; mountain trails; realized niche; species range shifts

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Diversity and Distributions
Publisher: WILEY

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