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A Long-Term Look at Range Limits

NSF renews funding for a multi-year study led by David Moeller investigating the ecological and evolutionary forces impacting the boundaries of species’ geographic ranges.

A central theme in evolutionary biology is that organisms frequently adapt to a variety of environments across their ranges. At the same time, it remains poorly understood as to why boundaries to geographic ranges form and remain stable over long periods of time. Plant and Microbial Biology faculty member Dave Moeller and his collaborators recently received a third round of funding from NSF in support of long-term research on geographic range limits.  

“Our work addresses the fundamental problem of understanding the geographic distributions of species,” says Moeller. “The factors that facilitate or prevent organisms' range limits from expanding or shifting in response to climate change are poorly understood.”

Moeller is leading a team that recently received a five-year NSF award (Long-Term Research in Environmental Biology program) to look at the population dynamics of Clarkia xantiana, a well-studied plant endemic to California, across its geographic range. This project builds on datasets collected continuously for 12 years on the plant in this region. Moeller and his team are working to better understand the contribution of adaptation to population demography and the size and extent of geographic ranges.

“Climate change is rapidly causing the environments that organisms inhabit to shift geographically,” says Moeller. “Long-term studies are essential for making robust predictions about the factors that may facilitate versus hinder organisms’ ranges from shifting with climate change.”

October, 2018