Competitive exclusion over broad spatial extents is a slow process: Evidence and implications for species distribution modeling

Ecography
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Abstract

There is considerable debate about the role of competition in shaping species distributions over broad spatial extents. This debate has practical implications because predicting changes in species' geographic ranges in response to ongoing environmental change would be simpler if competition could be ignored. While this debate has been the subject of many reviews, recent literature has not addressed the rates of relevant processes. This omission is surprising in that ecologists hypothesized decades ago that regional competitive exclusion is a slow process. The goal of this review is to reassess the debate under the hypothesis that competitive exclusion over broad spatial extents is a slow process.

Available evidence, including simulations presented for the first time here, suggests that competitive exclusion over broad spatial extents occurs slowly over temporal extents of many decades to millennia. Ecologists arguing against an important role for competition frequently study modern patterns and/or range dynamics over periods of decades, while much of the evidence for competition shaping geographic ranges at broad spatial extents comes from paleoecological studies over time scales of centuries or longer. If competition is slow, as evidence suggests, the geographic distributions of some, perhaps many species, would continue to change over time scales of decades to millennia, even if environmental conditions did not continue to change. If the distributions of competing species are at equilibrium it is possible to predict species distributions based on observed species–environment relationships. However, disequilibrium is widespread as a result of competition and many other processes. Studies whose goal is accurate predictions over intermediate time scales (decades to centuries) should focus on factors associated with range expansion (colonization) and loss (local extinction), as opposed to current patterns. In general, understanding of modern range dynamics would be enhanced by considering the rates of relevant processes.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Competitive exclusion over broad spatial extents is a slow process: Evidence and implications for species distribution modeling
Series title Ecography
DOI 10.1111/ecog.02836
Volume 40
Issue 2
Year Published 2016
Language English
Publisher Blackwell Publishers
Contributing office(s) Southwest Biological Science Center
Description 9 p.
First page 305
Last page 313