Carex curvula is a dominant sedge of European alpine tundra, exhibiting two morphological forms: C. curvula ssp. curvula (Ccc) and C. curvula ssp. rosae (Ccr). In this paper, we attempt to explore whether Ccc and Ccr are ecotypes or vicariant forms and whether between- and within-regional distribution patterns can be explained by variations in the amount of available habitats and/or by changes in niche attributes. The study area covered three bioclimatically distinct regions of the southwestern Alps in which local abundances of Ccc and Ccr strongly differ.
The realized niche of both forms was investigated by a direct gradient analysis performed on an extensive floristic and environmental data set. We found no evidence of niche overlap between Ccc and Ccr as their distribution curves differ strongly along disturbance, mesotopography and soil acidity gradients. We investigated the effect of region on the structure of local scale variables tables. Highly concordant patterns among regions were found, except that optimal habitat conditions for Ccc were infrequent in the southernmost regions. We compared the ecological behaviour of range centre and range margin populations of each form. We found a narrower ecological amplitude for Ccr in the northern part of its range, whereas for Ccc the niche breadth of range-margin populations was not reduced compared to range centre populations. At its southern range limit, Ccc mostly occupies ecologically marginal habitats.
We conclude that Ccc and Ccr represent ecotypes, not vicariant forms. Finally, we suggest that habitat availability, resulting from the interplay of regional-scale and local-scale variables, satisfactorily explains the distributional patterns of Carex curvula ecotypes in the southwestern Alps.
Abbreviations: CCA = Canonical Correspondence Analysis; Ccc = Carex curvula ssp. curvula; Ccr = Carex curvula ssp. rosae; OMI = Outlying Mean Index; PCA = Principal Component Analysis; RDA = Redundancy Analysis.
Nomenclature: Tutin et al. 1964–1980.