The majority, if not all, species have a limited geographic range bounded by a distribution edge. Violent ecotones such as sea coasts clearly produce edges for many species; however such ecotones, while sufficient for the formation of an edge, are not always necessary. We demonstrate this by simulation in discrete time of a spatially structured finite size metapopulation subjected to a spatial gradient in per-unit-time population extinction probability together with spatially structured dispersal and recolonisation. We find that relatively sharp edges separating a homeland or main geographical range from an outland or zone of relatively sparse and ephemeral colonisation can form in gradual environmental gradients. The form and placing of the edge is an emergent property of the metapopulation dynamics. The sharpness of the edge declines with increasing dispersal distance, and is dependent on the relative scales of dispersal distance and gradient length. The space over which the edge develops is short relative to the potential species range. The edge is robust against changes in both the shape of the environmental gradient and to a lesser extent to alterations in the kind of dispersal operating. Persistence times in the absence of environmental gradients are virtually independent of the shape of the dispersal function describing migration. The common finding of bell shaped population density distributions across geographic ranges may occur without the strict necessity of a niche mediated response to a spatially autocorrelated environment.
|Number of pages||17|
|Publication status||Published - Apr 1997|
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