Theoretical Ecology

, Volume 10, Issue 2, pp 167–179 | Cite as

Interspecific interactions and range limits: contrasts among interaction types

  • William GodsoeEmail author
  • Nathaniel J. Holland
  • Chris Cosner
  • Bruce E. Kendall
  • Angela Brett
  • Jill Jankowski
  • Robert D. Holt


There is a great deal of interest in the effects of biotic interactions on geographic distributions. Nature contains many different types of biotic interactions (notably mutualism, commensalism, predation, amensalism, and competition), and it is difficult to compare the effects of multiple interaction types on species’ distributions. To resolve this problem, we analyze a general, flexible model of pairwise biotic interactions that can describe all interaction types. In the absence of strong positive feedback, a species’ ability to be present depends on its ability to increase in numbers when it is rare and the species it is interacting with is at equilibrium. This insight leads to counterintuitive conclusions. Notably, we often predict the same range limit when the focal species experiences competition, predation, or amensalism. Similarly, we often predict the same range margin or when the species experiences mutualism, commensalism, or benefits from prey. In the presence of strong positive density-dependent feedback, different species interactions produce different range limits in our model. In all cases, the abiotic environment can indirectly influence the impact of biotic interactions on range limits. We illustrate the implications of this observation by analyzing a stress gradient where biotic interactions are harmful in benign environments but beneficial in stressful environments. Our results emphasize the need to consider the effects of all biotic interactions on species’ range limits and provide a systematic comparison of when biotic interactions affect distributions.


Species’ distributions Biotic interactions Range limits Mutualism Competition Stress gradient hypothesis 



This work was supported by the Biotic Interactions Working Group at the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis, sponsored by the National Science Foundation, the US Department of Homeland Security, and the US Department of Agriculture through NSF Award Nos. EF-0832858 and DBI-1300426, with additional support from The University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Helpful comments from Rowan Sprague and two anonymous reviewers.

Supplementary material

12080_2016_319_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (725 kb)
ESM 1 (PDF 724 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Bio-Protection ResearchCentre Lincoln UniversityLincolnNew Zealand
  2. 2.Department of Biology and BiochemistryUniversity of HoustonHoustonUSA
  3. 3.Department of MathematicsUniversity of MiamiCoral GablesUSA
  4. 4.Bren School of Environmental Science and ManagementUniversity of CaliforniaSanta BarbaraUSA
  5. 5.Hagley Community CollegeChristchurchNew Zealand
  6. 6.Biodiversity Research CentreUniversity of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada
  7. 7.Department of BiologyUniversity of FloridaGainesvilleUSA

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