Climatic niche breadth can explain variation in geographical range size of alpine and subalpine plants

Fangyuan Yu*, Thomas A. Groen, Tiejun Wang, Andrew K. Skidmore, Jihong Huang, Keping Ma

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Citations (Scopus)
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Understanding the environmental factors determining the distribution of species with different range sizes can provide valuable insights for evolutionary ecology and conservation biology in the face of expected climate change. However, little is known about what determines the variation in geographical and elevational ranges of alpine and subalpine plant species. Here, we examined the relationship between geographical and elevational range sizes for 80 endemic rhododendron species in China using Spearman's rank-order correlation. We ran the species distribution model – maximum entropy modelling (MaxEnt) – with 27 environmental variables. The importance of each variable to the model prediction was compared for species groups with different geographical and elevational range sizes. Our results showed that the correlation between geographical and elevational range sizes of rhododendron species was not significant. Climate-related variables were found to be the most important factors in shaping the distributional ranges of alpine and subalpine plant species across China. Species with geographically and elevationally narrow ranges had distinct niche requirements. For geographical ranges, the narrow-ranged species showed less tolerance to niche conditions than the wide-ranged species. For elevational ranges, compared with the wide-ranged species, the narrow-ranged species showed an equivalent niche breadth, but occurred at different niche position along the environmental gradient. Our findings suggest that over large spatial extents the elevational range size can be a complementary trait of alpine and subalpine plant species to geographical range size. Climatic niche breadth, especially the range of seasonal variability, can explain species' geographical range sizes. Changes in climate may influence the distribution of rhododendrons, with the effects likely being felt most by species with either a narrow geographical or narrow elevational range.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)190-212
Number of pages23
JournalInternational Journal of Geographical Information Science
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2017
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2016. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • Biogeography
  • niche breadth
  • geographical range size
  • elevational range size
  • rhododendron
  • China


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