Using niche-based GIS modeling to test geographic predictions of competitive exclusion and competitive release in South American pocket mice


  • Robert P. Anderson,

  • A. Townsend Peterson,

  • Marcela Gómez-Laverde

R. P. Anderson, A. T. Peterson, Natural History Museum & Biodiversity Res. Center and Dept of Ecology & Evolutionary Biol., 1345 Jayhawk Boulevard, Univ. of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas 66045-7561, USA (present address for R. P. Anderson: Div. of Vertebrate Zool. (Mammalogy), Am. Museum of Natural History, Central Park West at 79th Street, New York, NY 10024-5192, USA, –M. Gómez-Laverde, Fundación Ulamá, Aptdo Aéreo 93674, Santafé de Bogotá, Colombia.


Geographic studies addressing the role of competition in determining species’ macrodistributions have been limited by only simple or subjective means of identifying regions of suitable habitat. Now, ecological-niche models of species’ potential distributions present a possible approach to testing for the geographic patterns predicted under competitive exclusion and competitive release. Previously, we modeled the potential distributions of two spiny pocket mice (Heteromys australis and H. anomalus) in northwestern South America using specimen localities, environmental data, and the Genetic Algorithm for Rule-Set Prediction (GARP). Here we superimpose the models to examine known distributional records in areas of potential sympatry between the two species, thus testing the geographic predictions of competitive exclusion. In addition, we examine environmental characteristics of known localities, testing for data consistent with competitive release. Areas of potential sympatry are minimal, lying in regions of intermediate water balance. Only records of H. australis are known from areas of potential sympatry in regions where the species’ ranges meet, consistent with exclusion of H. anomalus by H. australis. Heteromys anomalus inhabits areas ecologically suitable for both species only in the isolated Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, in which H. australis is not present (most likely for historical reasons). Furthermore, environmental characteristics of localities of H. anomalus in biogeographic regions where H. australis is absent fit the pattern predicted under competitive release. In contrast, localities of H. australis show no indication of competitive release. Although the results of present analyses do not conclusively demonstrate competitive exclusion or release, they provide directional hypotheses that can now be tested in experimental field and laboratory studies.