• Conservation;
  • dynamic biogeography;
  • extinction;
  • geographical ranges;
  • macroecology;
  • range contraction


Aim We examined the range contraction of 309 declining species of animals and plants to determine if the contraction dynamics better matched predictions based on the demographic characteristics of historical populations (demographic hypothesis) or based on the contagion-like spread of extinction forces (contagion hypothesis).

Location Species included in the analysis came from all biogeographic regions.

Methods We obtained range maps for 309 species from literature or through personal correspondence with authorities. Hypotheses were contrasted by examining the sequence of changes in the proportion (C) of the remnant range that fell within the central region of the historical range. Monte Carlo simulations and polynomial regressions were employed to examine changes in C during the process of range contraction.

Results The results of the Monte Carlo simulations indicated that more species had observed range contractions consistent with the contagion hypothesis than expected by chance (z-score = 2.922, P = 0.002). The Monte Carlo analysis also indicated that the number of species whose observed range contractions were consistent with the demographic hypothesis was no greater than expected by chance (z-score = 0.337, P = 0.367). The results of the polynomial regression analysis for the two most common taxonomic groups (mammals and birds) and for all geographical regions (Australia, Africa, Eurasia, and North America) we examined also supported the contagion hypothesis.

Main conclusions Most of the examined range contractions are consistent with the contagion hypothesis and that the most likely contagion is human related disturbance. These results have important implications for the conservation of endangered species.