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Environmental variability and biogeography: the relationship between bathymetric distribution and geographical range size in marine algae and gastropods


Christopher D. G. Harley, Hopkins Marine Station, Oceanview Blvd., Pacific Grove, CA 93950, U.S.A. E-mail:


Aims  Gradients of environmental variability have been proposed to explain spatial variation in patterns of geographical range size. We explore this relationship in NE Pacific algae and NW Atlantic gastropods by using the characteristics of species’ bathymetric distributions as a proxy for tolerance of environmental variability.

Location  NE Pacific and NW Atlantic.

Methods  Data on species bathymetric and geographical distributions were compiled from the literature.

Results  For both algae and gastropods, species that inhabit highly seasonal, shallow depth zones have broader latitudinal ranges, and occupy more biogeographical provinces, than species that live in more temporally stable, deeper zones. Furthermore, species that tolerate spatial variability along the bathymetric axis, i.e. those that occur in multiple depth zones, have broader geographical ranges than species restricted to fewer depth zones.

Main conclusions  Within-range environmental variability, through both space and time, is predictive of large geographical ranges for marine algae and gastropods. Analysis of species distributions across perpendicular gradients (e.g. depth and latitude) is a powerful approach to discerning the mechanisms that govern biogeographical patterns, and provides easily obtainable broad-brush predictions regarding the biogeographical outcomes of global change.