Brett A. Melbourne & Alan Hastings

Collaborative Research: Range Limits and Their Response to Environmental Change: Experiments and Stochastic Models

National Science Foundation, Division of Environmental Biology
$802,465 August 2009 - July 2014


For every species, there are limits to where it is found. However, the fundamental ecological processes that determine species' range boundaries are not understood well enough to predict how they will respond to environmental change. This proposal will investigate three overarching questions. First, what determines range limits? Second, how variable are range limits even under identical conditions, and what determines that variability? Third, how do range limits respond to underlying environmental change? That is, how quickly do they respond and how predictable or variable are their responses given the inherent variability arising from random population processes? These questions will be addressed using a laboratory based experimental system (the red flour beetle Tribolium castaneum) together with mathematical and statistical modeling.

Understanding what sets range limits and their variability is vital for understanding and forecasting how species will respond to climate change. For example, how fast can species' ranges adjust to a changing climate and to increased variability in climate? Only through the experimental approach used here can we gain the understanding needed by society over the time frame available before action will be required. The interdisciplinary approach used will have the additional benefit of providing real interdisciplinary training and experience, as well as financial support for more than forty undergraduate and graduate students to become the next generation of environmental scientists.