The community context of species' borders: ecological and evolutionary perspectives

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Species distributional limits may coincide with hard dispersal barriers or physiological thresholds along environmental gradients, but they may also be influenced by species interactions. We explore a number of models of interspecific interactions that lead to (sometimes abrupt) distribution limits in the presence and absence of environmental gradients. We find that gradients in competitive ability can lead to spatial segregation of competitors into distinct ranges, but that spatial movement tends to broaden the region of sympatry between the two species, and that Allee effects tend to sharpen these boundaries. We generalize these simple models to include metapopulation dynamics and other types of interactions including predator–prey and host–parasite interactions. We derive conditions for range limits in each case. We also consider models that include coevolution and gene flow and find that character displacement along environmental gradients can lead to stable parapatric distributions. We conclude that it is essential to consider coevolved species interactions as a potential mechanism limiting species distributions, particularly when barriers to dispersal are weak and environmental gradients are gradual.

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