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Examining Biogeography, Species Distribution, Habitat and Range Limits
Relationship between Local Ecology and Geographic Range Size


Inyo National Forest

Kimball, S., P. Wilson, and J. Crowther. 2004. Local ecology and geographic ranges of plants in the Bishop Creek watershed, Sierra Nevada, California. Journal of Biogeography 31: 1637-1657.
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The physiological requirements and tolerances of a species partially determine both its habitat preferences within a community and its broader geographic range. We recorded all plant species growing in each of 263 plots in the montane through alpine zones of the Bishop Creek watershed, on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada. The local habitat preferences of 362 species were described in terms of wetness, elevation, soil, and amount of shade. The size and center of the geographic range for each species were determined from regional floras.

Wetness preference within the watershed was significantly correlated with range size. Specifically, plants of wet sites had larger ranges centered to the north, whereas plants of dry sites tended to have smaller ranges centered to the east. The correlation between local wetness preference and range size was entirely explained by the direction of the center of the range.

One possible reason is that mesic habitats are and have long been available throughout the western Cordillera. In contrast, species adapted to xeric conditions have been poorly connected to high elevation dry sites. The dry-site species in the Bishop Creek watershed have ranges that extend to high mountains to the east, and some are local endemics. The correlation between local ecology and geographic distribution implies that the niches of plant species are evolutionarily static.

The relationship between the wetness preference of species and their range size.

Map of Sierra Nevada and adjacent regions, showing the portions of the upper Bishop Creek flora with geographic affinities in each direction. Species ranges were categorized based on the direction in which the species is most common, e.g. a species common to the east but occasionally found to the north was coded as E. Percentages are out of 239; excluded were 40 species whose ranges extend in opposing directions, including cosmopolitan species.

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