Powney GD, Rapacciuolo G, Preston CD, Purvis A, Roy DB

Species distributions are changing, and knowing whether certain character traits predispose species to decline or increase during times of environmental change can shed light on the main drivers of distribution change. Using data on British plant species’ recent changes, their traits and evolutionary relatedness, we find that traits associated with habitat specialism and competitive ability are related to range change, with more competitive habitat generalists faring better than habitat specialists. These results highlight the greater ability of generalists to adapt to environmental perturbation, but also the negative impacts of agricultural intensification on the flora of Britain, in particular the loss of open, dry habitats. Overall, our findings indicate that we may anticipate the likely responses of some species to environmental changes based on whether the species exhibit certain traits.

Biodiversity and Conservation 23: 171–185

Keywords: agricultural intensification, comparative analysis, distribution change, phylogeny, plant traits