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Proc Biol Sci. 2009 Apr 22;276(1661):1429-34. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2008.1199. Epub 2009 Feb 25.

Evolutionarily stable range limits set by interspecific competition.

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  • 1Department of Ecology and Evolution, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL 60637, USA.


A combination of abiotic and biotic factors probably restricts the range of many species. Recent evolutionary models and tests of those models have asked how a gradual change in environmental conditions can set the range limit, with a prominent idea being that gene flow disrupts local adaptation. We investigate how biotic factors, explicitly competition for limited resources, result in evolutionarily stable range limits even in the absence of the disruptive effect of gene flow. We model two competing species occupying different segments of the resource spectrum. If one segment of the resource spectrum declines across space, a species that specializes on that segment can be driven to extinction, even though in the absence of competition it would evolve to exploit other abundant resources and so be saved. The result is that a species range limit is set in both evolutionary and ecological time, as the resources associated with its niche decline. Factors promoting this outcome include: (i) inherent gaps in the resource distribution, (ii) relatively high fitness of the species when in its own niche, and low fitness in the alternative niche, even when resource abundances are similar in each niche, (iii) strong interspecific competition, and (iv) asymmetric interspecific competition. We suggest that these features are likely to be common in multispecies communities, thereby setting evolutionarily stable range limits.

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