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Naturwissenschaften. 2006 May;93(5):246-50. Epub 2006 Mar 15.

Latitudinal gradients in niche breadth and position-regional patterns in freshwater fish.

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  • 1Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences, University of Helsinki, P.O. Box 65, FIN-00014 Helsinki, Finland.


The latitudinal gradient in diversity is widely acknowledged, but the mechanisms contributing to this pattern are still poorly known. Given that the species have environmental optima, a central issue is how species' niche parameters, i.e. niche breadth and niche position, vary along the latitudinal gradient. In this study, we examined the determinants of fish distribution and the variability in species' niche breadth and position along latitudinal gradient using a regional data set of boreal lakes. Results of the Outlying Mean Index analysis showed that the fish community structure was jointly controlled by a number of environmental factors, ranging from water chemistry and temperature to local physical factors such as lake area and depth. Corroborating the number of earlier findings, the regional occupancy of species was more strongly governed by the niche position than the niche breadth, although both showed a significant relationship with the regional distribution. When the latitudinal variability in niche parameters of the main taxonomic groups was analysed, both percids and cyprinids, being cool water species, showed significant decrease in niche breadth northwards as we predicted. By contrast, the niche position and latitude were non-significantly correlated in percids and salmonids, and negatively correlated in cyprinids, the latter showing the opposite pattern as we predicted. However, even if only a part of our predictions was supported, the results generally implied that the examination of latitudinal variability in the niche properties is potentially highly rewarding, not only in estimation of present community structure in lakes but also for predictions of species' responses to climate change.

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