Vegetation science has relied on untested paradigms relating to the shape of species response curves along environmental gradients. To advance in this field, we used the HOF approach to model response curves for 112 plant species along six environmental gradients and three ecoclines (as represented by DCA ordination axes) in SE Norwegian swamp forests. Response curve properties were summarized in three binary response variables: (1) model unimodal or monotonous (determinate) vs. indeterminate; (2) for determinate models, unimodal vs. monotonous and (3) for unimodal models, skewed vs. symmetric. We used logistic regression to test the influence, singly and jointly, of seven predictor variables on each of three response variables. Predictor variables included gradient type (environmental or ecocline) and length (compositional turnover); species category (vascular plant, moss, Sphagnum or hepatic), species frequency and richness, tolerance (the fraction of the gradient along which the species occurs) and position of species along each gradient. The probability for fitting a determinate model increased as the main occurrence of species approached gradient extremes and with increasing species tolerance and frequency and gradient length. Appearance of unimodal models was favoured by low species tolerance and disfavoured by closeness of species to gradient extremes. Appearance of skewed models was weakly related to predictors but was slightly favoured by species optima near gradient extremes. Contrary to the results of previous studies, species category, gradient type and variation in species richness along gradients did not contribute independently to model prediction. The overall best predictors of response curve shape were position along the gradient (relative to extremes) and tolerance; the latter also expressing gradient length in units of compositional turnover. This helps predicting species responses to gradients from gradient specific species properties. The low proportion of skewed response curves and the large variation of species response curves along all gradients indicate that skewed response curves is a smaller problem for the performance of ordination methods than often claimed. We find no evidence that DCA ordination increases the unimodality, or symmetry, of species response curves more than expected from the higher compositional turnover along ordination axes. Thus ordination axes may be appropriate proxies for ecoclines, applicable for use in species response modelling.
Abbreviations: GAM = Generalized Additive Model; GLM = Generalized linear model; HOF = Huisman-Olff-Fresco; LNMDS = Local Non-metric Multidimensional Scaling.
Nomenclature: Lid & Lid (1994); Frisvoll et al. (1995); Krog et al. (1994), except for Polytrichastrum G.L.Sm., which is not recognized as distinct from Polytrichum Hedw. Several groups of related taxa were treated collectively.