• dispersal limitation;
  • extinction–colonization;
  • freshwater connectivity;
  • geographic distribution;
  • niche breadth;
  • Odonata;
  • range limits;
  • range size


  1. Species' range sizes are shaped by fundamental differences in species' ecological and evolutionary characteristics, and understanding the mechanisms determining range size can shed light on the factors responsible for generating and structuring biological diversity. Moreover, because geographic range size is associated with a species' risk of extinction and their ability to respond to global changes in climate and land use, understanding these mechanisms has important conservation implications.
  2. Despite the hypotheses that dispersal behaviour is a strong determinant of species range areas, few data are available to directly compare the relationship between dispersal behaviour and range size. Here, we overcome this limitation by combining data from a multispecies dispersal experiment with additional species-level trait data that are commonly hypothesized to affect range size (e.g. niche breadth, local abundance and body size.). This enables us to examine the relationship between these species-level traits and range size across North America for fifteen dragonfly species.
  3. Ten models based on a priori predictions about the relationship between species traits and range size were evaluated and two models were identified as good predictors of species range size. These models indicated that only two species' level traits, dispersal behaviour and niche breadth were strongly related to range size. The evidence from these two models indicated that dragonfly species that disperse more often and further had larger North American ranges.
  4. Extinction and colonization dynamics are expected to be a key linkage between dispersal behaviour and range size in dragonflies. To evaluate how extinction and colonization dynamics among dragonflies were related to range size we used an independent data set of extinction and colonization rates for eleven dragonfly species and assessed the relationship between these populations rates and North American range areas for these species.
  5. We found a negative relationship between North American range size and species' extinction-to-colonization ratios. Our results indicate that metapopulation dynamics act to shape the extent of species' continental distributions. These population dynamics are likely to interact with dispersal behaviour, particularly at species range margins, to determine range limits and ultimately species range sizes.