American Society of Naturalists

A membership society whose goal is to advance and to diffuse knowledge of organic evolution and other broad biological principles so as to enhance the conceptual unification of the biological sciences.

“Testing range-limit hypotheses using range-wide habitat suitability and occupancy for the scarlet monkeyflower (Erythranthe cardinalis)”

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Amy L. Angert, Matthew Bayly, Seema N. Sheth, and John R. Paul (Mar 2018)

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Determining the causes of geographic range limits is a fundamental problem in ecology, evolution, and conservation biology. Range limits arise due to fitness and dispersal limitation, which yield contrasting predictions about habitat suitability and occupancy of suitable habitat across geographic ranges. If a range edge is limited primarily by fitness, occupancy of suitable habitat should be high, habitat suitability should decline towards the edge, and no suitable habitat should exist beyond it. In contrast, a range edge limited primarily by dispersal should have unoccupied but suitable habitat at and beyond the edge. We built ecological niche models relating occurrence records for the scarlet monkeyflower (Erythranthe cardinalis) to climatic variables, and applied these models to independent data from systematic, range-wide surveys of presence and absence to estimate the availability and occupancy of climatically suitable habitat. We found that fitness limitation predominated over dispersal limitation, but dispersal limitation also played a role at the poleward edge. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that dispersal limitation is more important along shallow environmental gradients and also suggest that synergy between dispersal and fitness limitation can contribute to colonization failure. The framework used here is validated by independent data and could be readily applied to inferring causes of range limits in many other species.