Functional ecology of a narrow endemic plant and a widespread congener from semiarid Spain
We compared physiological and morphological traits of Thymus loscosii, a rare endemic of semiarid Spain, and Thymus vulgaris, a widespread Mediterranean species, over a precipitation gradient, and measured the spatial patterns of both species. Our results do not provide evidence for a congruent suite of traits associated with rarity in T. loscosii, since this species showed some traits reported in rare species (lower height and biomass), but exhibited better performance under severe climatic conditions (higher photochemical efficiency and quantum yield during winter) and higher values of traits conferring competitive abilities (SLA and LAR). T. loscosii did not show either lower phenotypic variability or better performance than its congener along the precipitation gradient. The two thymes were spatially dissociated when they co-occurred and the spatial pattern of T. loscosii changed from clumped in the presence of its congener to random when it was the only thyme, suggesting competition between the two species. These results suggest that T. loscosii is not a habitat-specialist and may behave as a refuge endemic. Its reduced distribution may be linked to a limited competitive ability that is not associated with the vegetative traits explored, although other causes like habitat degradation and genetic or reproductive constraints might also be important to explain its limited distribution.
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