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Oecologia. 2006 Jun;148(2):270-9. Epub 2006 Feb 14.

Life at the edge: an experimental study of a poleward range boundary.

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Section of Evolution and Ecology, and, Center for Population Biology, University of California, Davis, CA 95616, USA.


Experimental studies of biogeographic processes are important, but rarely attempted because of the logistical challenges of research at large spatial scales. I used a series of large-scale transplant experiments to investigate the mechanisms controlling species abundance near a poleward range boundary. The intertidal limpet Collisella scabra experiences a 100-fold decline in abundance over the northernmost 300 km of its range. Temperature and food supply both strongly influenced individual survival, growth, and maturation. Regression analysis also revealed significant interactions among these conditions: the effect of one could not be predicted without knowing the level of the other. But these relationships could not explain geographic abundance patterns. Instead, individual limpets were highly successful at sites with relatively low abundance. These results suggest that, even though temperature is important to the success of individual C. scabra populations, the primary effect of warming temperatures under climate change may not be a shift in geographic distribution.

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