The geographic ranges of closely related species can vary dramatically, yet we do not fully grasp the mechanisms underlying such variation. The niche breadth hypothesis posits that species that have evolved broad environmental tolerances can achieve larger geographic ranges than species with narrow environmental tolerances. In turn, plasticity and genetic variation in ecologically important traits and adaptation to environmentally variable areas can facilitate the evolution of broad environmental tolerance. We used five pairs of western North American monkeyflowers to experimentally test these ideas by quantifying performance across eight temperature regimes. In four species pairs, species with broader thermal tolerances had larger geographic ranges, supporting the niche breadth hypothesis. As predicted, species with broader thermal tolerances also had more within-population genetic variation in thermal reaction norms and experienced greater thermal variation across their geographic ranges than species with narrow thermal tolerances. Species with narrow thermal tolerance may be particularly vulnerable to changing climatic conditions due to lack of plasticity and insufficient genetic variation to respond to novel selection pressures. Conversely, species experiencing high variation in temperature across their ranges may be buffered against extinction due to climatic changes because they have evolved tolerance to a broad range of temperatures.
- Climatic variability hypothesis
- Genetic variation
- Geographic range size
- Niche breadth
- Specialist-generalist tradeoffs
- Thermal performance curve