Although generations of researchers have studied the factors that limit the distributions of species, we still do not seem to understand this phenomenon comprehensively. Traditionally, species’ ranges have been seen as the consequence of abiotic conditions and local adaptation to the environment. However, during the last years it has become more and more evident that biotic factors – such as intra- and interspecific interactions or the dispersal capacity of species – and even rapidly occurring evolutionary processes can strongly influence the range of a species and its potential to spread to new habitats. Relevant eco-evolutionary forces can be found at all hierarchical levels: from landscapes to communities via populations, individuals and genes.
We here use the metapopulation concept to develop a framework that allows us to synthesize this broad spectrum of different factors. Since species’ ranges are the result of a dynamic equilibrium of colonization and local extinction events, the importance of dispersal is immediately clear. We highlight the complex interrelations and feedbacks between ecological and evolutionary forces that shape dispersal and result in non-trivial and partially counter-intuitive range dynamics. Our concept synthesizes current knowledge on range biology and the eco-evolutionary dynamics of dispersal.
What factors are responsible for the dynamics of species' ranges? Answering this question has never been more important than today, in the light of rapid environmental changes.
Surprisingly, the ecological and evolutionary dynamics of dispersal – which represent the driving forces behind range formation – have rarely been considered in this context. We here present a framework that closes this gap.
Dispersal evolution may be responsible for highly complex and non-trivial range dynamics. In order to understand these, and possibly provide projections of future range positions, it is crucial to take the ecological and evolutionary dynamics of dispersal into account.