Question: Is Rhynchostegium megapolitanum an expanding species?
Location: Viennese Basin (120–220 m a.s.l.), Austria.
Methods: 121 dry grasslands, were investigated for the occurrence of R. megapolitanum. Nineteen environmental variables at 50 randomly selected sites, species composition at sites with and without R. megapolitanum and the spatial patterns of distribution of the species at the landscape scale were analysed. We compared actual distribution data of three rare species (Didymodon acutus, Pleurochaete squarrosa R. megapolitanum) and a common one (Brachythecium rutabulum) with the distribution obtained by vouchers that were collected between 1860 and 1940 in the investigated area. We calculated a GIS based model pattern and compared it with the actual distribution.
Results: R. megapolitanum was detected in 28 of these sites, almost 50 % of its populations produced sporophytes. We found significant differences between sites with and without R. megapolitanum with regard to grassland size, the percentage of silt and of sand in the soil. There were fewer occurrences of historic herbarium vouchers of R. megapolitanum than our current field survey discovered. The GIS based analyses of distribution patterns at the landscape scale showed a clustering of sites in which R. megapolitanum was present or absent. Simulations with a spatially realistic expansion model showed high similarities to the actual distribution of the species.
Conclusions: All these analyses suggest that R. megapolitanum has been expanding in the investigated area. A significant increase in temperature and nitrogen deposition within the last hundred years might be the underlying cause for the species' spread.
Abbreviations AFLP = Amplified Fragment Length Polymorphism; GIS = Geographic information system; NHM = Natural History Museum Vienna; ZAMG = Central Institute of Meteorology and Geodynamics