The role of competition, ecotones, and temperature in the elevational distribution of Himalayan birds

Paul R. Elsen, Morgan W. Tingley, Ramnarayan Kalyanaraman, Krishnamurthy Ramesh, David S. Wilcove

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

56 Scopus citations


There is clear evidence that species' ranges along environmental gradients are constrained by both biotic and abiotic factors, yet their relative importance in structuring realized distributions remains uncertain. We surveyed breeding bird communities while collecting in situ temperature and vegetation data along five elevational transects in the Himalayas differing in temperature variability, habitat zonation, and bird richness in order to disentangle temperature, habitat, and congeneric competition as mechanisms structuring elevational ranges. Our results from species' abundance models representing these three mechanisms differed markedly from previous, foundational research in the tropics. Contrary to general expectations, we found little evidence for competition as a major determinant of range boundaries, with congeneric species limiting only 12% of ranges. Instead, temperature and habitat were found to structure the majority of species' distributions, limiting 48 and 40% of ranges, respectively. Our results suggest that different mechanisms may structure species ranges in the temperate Himalayas compared to tropical systems. Despite recent evidence suggesting temperate species have broader thermal tolerances than tropical species, our findings reinforce the notion that the abiotic environment has significant control over the distributions of temperate species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)337-348
Number of pages12
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


  • Abiotic
  • Biotic
  • Distribution
  • Elevation
  • Himalayan birds
  • Modeling
  • Range limits


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