The niche, biogeography and species interactions

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305 Scopus citations


In this paper, I review the relevance of the niche to biogeography, and what biogeography may tell us about the niche. The niche is defined as the combination of abiotic and biotic conditions where a species can persist. I argue that most biogeographic patterns are created by niche differences over space, and that even 'geographic barriers' must have an ecological basis. However, we know little about specific ecological factors underlying most biogeographic patterns. Some evidence supports the importance of abiotic factors, whereas few examples exist of large-scale patterns created by biotic interactions. I also show how incorporating biogeography may offer new perspectives on resource-related niches and species interactions. Several examples demonstrate that even after a major evolutionary radiation within a region, the region can still be invaded by ecologically similar species from another clade, countering the long-standing idea that communities and regions are generally 'saturated' with species. I also describe the somewhat paradoxical situation where competition seems to limit trait evolution in a group, but does not prevent co-occurrence of species with similar values for that trait (called here the 'competition-divergence-co-occurrence conundrum'). In general, the interface of biogeography and ecology could be a major area for research in both fields.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2336-2350
Number of pages15
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1576
StatePublished - 2011


  • Biogeography
  • Competition
  • Ecology
  • Evolution
  • Niche

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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