The northern geographic range limit of the intertidal limpet Collisella scabra: a test of performance, recruitment, and temperature hypotheses


  • Sarah E. Gilman

S. E. Gilman (, Section of Evolution and Ecology, and Center for Population Biology, Univ. of California, Davis, CA 95616, USA (present address of S. E. G.: Friday Harbor Laboratories, Univ. of Washington, 620 University Road, Friday Harbor, WA 98250, USA).


A decline in abundance towards a species' range boundary is often interpreted as evidence of a decline in individual success, and is usually assumed to reflect a decline in suitable environmental conditions. Gradual declines towards high latitude range boundaries are frequently attributed to limitations on organismal tolerance of cold temperature. Rarely have these two assumptions been empirically tested. The intertidal gastropod Collisella scabra declines monotonically in abundance from 435 to <1 m−2 over the northern 300 km of its geographic distribution. I examined temperature, adult performance (survival, growth, reproduction), and recruitment at five locations in this region of decline. Mortality ranged from 4.9 to 11.2% per month, but was highest at the lowest latitude study site. Growth rates ranged from 0 to 5.2 mm yr−1, but were generally lower at lower latitude sites. Gonad development was high in the three populations examined, but the possibility of infrequent spawning at high latitude sites could not be excluded. Finally, a comparison of performance differences among populations with temperature revealed clear effects of temperature on both growth and mortality; however, the patterns were not consistent with a hypothesis of cold stress at the range boundary. Overall there was little evidence for either reduced performance or increasing cold stress in low density high latitude populations. Over the same 300 km, recruitment declined monotonically from a mean of six recruits per 625 cm2 to less than one; suggesting that limitations on recruitment, rather that adult performance, are responsible for low abundance in marginal populations. Several hypotheses for the decline in recruitment are discussed in the paper and the most likely explanation appears to be an increase in the distance between populations at the range margin, reducing the chances that dispersing larvae find suitable habitat for settlement.