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What can local and geographic population limits tell us about distributions?

  • Author(s): Sexton, Jason P;
  • Dickman, Erin E
  • et al.

Premise of the study

Understanding the evolutionary and ecological factors that determine plant distributions is of primary importance in botanical research. These factors may vary in predictable ways across different spatial scales, and thus, we can leverage scale to reveal the underlying processes limiting plant distributions.


We review various research considerations across local and geographic scales, including the investigation of dispersal and habitat limitation, evolutionary factors, abiotic and biotic factors, and research logistics. We also present two case studies, slender monkeyflower (Mimulus leptaleus) and cut-leaf monkeyflower (Mimulus laciniatus), in the California Sierra Nevada.

Key results

At a local spatial scale (within 50 m), no seeds were produced from plants sown at sites located just beyond known patches of M. leptaleus, but within the species' geographic range. At a much broader spatial scale (kilometers), at the highest and lowest elevations of the species' range, we found greatly reduced abundance and fecundity in plants sown outside of the geographic range limits of M. laciniatus.


These cases illustrate two contrasting spatial scales, yet agree in their illustration of strong habitat limitation. We end by discussing future avenues of research and by suggesting ways botanical researchers can frame their studies to maximize information gained on species requirements, distribution limits, and conservation among varying spatial scales.

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