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Species interactions constrain geographic range expansion over evolutionary time


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Whether biotic interactions limit geographic ranges has long been controversial, and traditional analyses of static distribution patterns have made little progress towards resolving this debate. Here, we use a novel phylogenetic approach to test whether biotic interactions constrain the transition to secondary sympatry following speciation. Applying this temporal framework to a diverse clade of passerine birds (Furnariidae), we reject models of geographic range overlap limited purely by dispersal or environmental constraints, and instead show that rates of secondary sympatry are positively associated with both the phylogenetic and morphological distance between species. Thus, transition rates to sympatry increase with time since divergence and accelerate as the ecological differences between species accumulate. Taken together, these results provide strong empirical evidence that biotic interactions – and primarily ecological competition – limit species distributions across large spatial and temporal scales. They also offer phylogenetic and trait-based metrics by which these interactions can be incorporated into ecological forecasting models.