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Keywords:

  • Extinction risk;
  • geographical range;
  • meta-analysis;
  • niche breadth;
  • rarity;
  • specialisation

Abstract

The range of resources that a species uses (i.e. its niche breadth) might determine the geographical area it can occupy, but consensus on whether a niche breadth–range size relationship generally exists among species has been slow to emerge. The validity of this hypothesis is a key question in ecology in that it proposes a mechanism for commonness and rarity, and if true, may help predict species' vulnerability to extinction. We identified 64 studies that measured niche breadth and range size, and we used a meta-analytic approach to test for the presence of a niche breadth–range size relationship. We found a significant positive relationship between range size and environmental tolerance breadth (= 0.49), habitat breadth (= 0.45), and diet breadth (= 0.28). The overall positive effect persisted even when incorporating sampling effects. Despite significant variability in the strength of the relationship among studies, the general positive relationship suggests that specialist species might be disproportionately vulnerable to habitat loss and climate change due to synergistic effects of a narrow niche and small range size. An understanding of the ecological and evolutionary mechanisms that drive and cause deviations from this niche breadth–range size pattern is an important future research goal.