• Allee effect;
  • demography;
  • hybrid models;
  • mechanistic species distribution;
  • model selection;
  • negative density dependence;
  • overcompensation;
  • population dynamics;
  • serotinous Proteaceae;
  • wind dispersal


Aims  To better understand how demographic processes shape the range dynamics of woody plants (in this case, Proteaceae), we introduce a likelihood framework for fitting process-based models of range dynamics to spatial abundance data.

Location  The fire-prone Fynbos biome (Cape Floristic Region, South Africa).

Methods  Our process-based models have a spatially explicit demographic submodel (describing dispersal, reproduction, mortality and local extinction) as well as an observation submodel (describing imperfect detection of individuals), and are constrained by species-specific predictions of habitat distribution models and process-based models for seed dispersal by wind. Free model parameters were varied to find parameter sets with the highest likelihood. After testing this approach with simulated data, we applied it to eight Proteaceae species that differ in breeding system (monoecy versus dioecy) and adult fire survival. We assess the importance of Allee effects and negative density dependence for range dynamics, by using the Akaike information criterion to select between alternative models fitted for the same species.

Results  The best model for all dioecious study species included Allee effects, whereas this was true for only one of four monoecious species. As expected, sprouters (in which adults survive fire) were estimated to have lower rates of reproduction and catastrophic population extinction than related non-sprouters. Overcompensatory population dynamics seem important for three of four non-sprouters. We also found good quantitative agreement between independent data and most estimates of reproduction, carrying capacity and extinction probability.

Main conclusions  This study shows that process-based models can quantitatively describe how large-scale abundance distributions arise from the movement and interaction of individuals. It stresses links between the life history, demography and range dynamics of Proteaceae: dioecious species seem more susceptible to Allee effects which reduce migration ability and increase local extinction risk, and sprouters seem to have high persistence of established populations, but their low reproduction limits habitat colonization and migration.