ABOVE: A fragmented habitat caused by diverse land use in Zhejiang Province, China

Astudy of 9,701 plant species in China suggests that land use by humans affects the way plants fill in their potential geographic ranges. Researchers led by Keping Ma, an ecologist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, analyzed distribution data for vascular plant species to calculate range filling, or how much of a potential suitable location certain species take up. They then compared this measurement with human population density and the proportion of cropland in the species’ range areas. Their results were published in PNAS yesterday (December 16). 

The team found that in areas with high levels of human activity, plants with narrow ranges fill up less of their potential space—that is, the individual plants are distributed throughout a smaller area. But for plants that have wide ranges, the opposite is true. Higher levels...

Gastrodia elata, a narrow-ranged orchid (left), and Pinus massoniana, a widespread pine tree (right), two species included in the study

W. Xu et al., “Human activities have opposing effects on distributions of narrow-ranged and widespread plant species in China,” PNAS, doi:10.1073/pnas.1911851116, 2019.

Emily Makowski is an intern at The Scientist. Email her at emakowski@the-scientist.com. 

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