Are range limits defined by niche limits?

The range of any given species is limited by several biotic and abiotic conditions. But to what extent can geographical range limits be explained by ecological niches?

Data resources used via GBIF : 88,253 species occurrences
Trembling Aspen (Populus tremuloides)

Trembling Aspen (Populus tremuloides), one of the species tested. Photo by David Kaposi via iNaturalist licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0.

The range of any given species is limited by several biotic and abiotic conditions. But to what extent can geographical range limits be explained by ecological niches? This study combined results from existing transplant experiments using both plants and animals with new ecological niche models based on GBIF-mediated occurrences to provide a comparative approach to the question. The researchers weighed performance of transplanted species against predicted suitability in the niche models, and found that across almost all species tested, the two parameters were concordant and significantly lower outside the range than inside. The results provide compelling support for the hypothesis that range limits reflect niche limits, raising questions about the importance of dispersal limitation to species’ distributions. The study combines methods and provides a robust framework for studying range limits.

Citations

Lee-Yaw JA, Kharouba HM, Bontrager M, Mahony C, Csergő AM, Noreen AME, Li Q, Schuster R and Angert AL (2016) A synthesis of transplant experiments and ecological niche models suggests that range limits are often niche limits. Ecology Letters. Wiley-Blackwell 19(6): 710–722. Available at doi:10.1111/ele.12604.

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