In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Geographic Range

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Textbooks
  • Journals
  • Niche
  • Range Edges
  • Body Size
  • Rapoport’s Rule
  • Dispersal
  • Physiology
  • Local Range Boundaries
  • Symbiosis
  • Heritability
  • Extinction
  • Exotic Species
  • Species Distribution Model
  • Climate Change
  • Data Availability

Ecology Geographic Range
K. A. S. Mislan
  • LAST REVIEWED: 31 March 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 31 March 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199830060-0141


Geographic range describes the spatial area where a species is found. Studies on the processes determining geographic range patterns address fundamental questions, which are very much at the heart of ecological research, on distribution and abundance of species. Geographic ranges are influenced by both abiotic and biotic factors. Abiotic factors that influence geographic range are often related to climate; prominent examples include air temperature and snow depth. Biotic factors are interactions between species such as competition and predation. Abiotic and biotic factors are often considered across the array of subdisciplines of geographic range: niches, range edges, body size, Rapoport’s rule, dispersal, physiology, local range boundaries, heritability, extinction, exotic species, species distribution models, and climate change. For example, interannual fluctuations in abiotic and biotic factors cause expansions and contractions at range edges of geographic distributions, some of the most dynamic components of a geographic range. The diversity of species and the challenges in studying species over large spatial scales mean that there is still much to be discovered. Data sources for studies of geographic range are becoming publicly available, creating opportunities for more comprehensive analyses of geographic range, which can be used to address existing hypotheses and develop new hypotheses.

General Overviews

Many books address the topic of geographic range and serve as comprehensive overviews for the many subdisciplines within the field. MacArthur 1972 wrote the first book focused solely on the topic of geographic patterns in ecology. The theory and topics presented in the book have served as a foundation for research on geographic ranges. Rapoport 1982 compiles and synthesizes data on geographic ranges in a book on areography, which is a term for the study of geographical ranges of taxa. The book stimulated new hypotheses, many of which are central to the study of geographic ranges. Brown 1995 is a book on macroecology, which is a topic that often overlaps with the study of geographic range. Macroecologists study ecological processes over large spatial scales. The studies often include information on geographic ranges of species because geographic ranges are large spatial-scale ecological variables. Kevin J. Gaston has written extensively on the subject of geographic range, with particular focus on range size, range edges, and abundance. The information in Gaston 2003 is relevant for many of the subtopics in this bibliography. Most books on geographic range focus on terrestrial ecosystems; Witman and Roy 2009 focuses on geographic range topics relevant for marine ecosystems. There are some key differences among the processes determining geographic ranges in terrestrial versus marine ecosystems. Brown, et al. 1996, a journal article, reviews the major topics related to geographic range. The article is much shorter than any of the books, but provides a clear and concise overview. The book Baas Becking 1934, which is written in Dutch, was the starting point for studies of the biogeographic patterns of microbes. The article de Wit and Bouvier 2006, in English, discusses the key statements of Baas Becking 1934. Martiny, et al. 2006 reviews studies on the biogeography of microorganisms and compares the processes determining the geographic range of microorganisms to macroorganisms.

  • Baas Becking, Lourens G. M. 1934. Geobiologie of inleiding tot de milieukunde. The Hague, the Netherlands: W. P. Van Stockum & Zoon.

    The title translates to “Geobiology or introduction to science of the environment.” The phrase “Everything is everywhere, but, the environment selects” is coined in this book. In Dutch.

  • Brown, James H. 1995. Macroecology. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

    The titles of some of the relevant chapters are “The Macroecological Approach,” “Species, Niches, and Communities,” “The Abundance and Distribution of Species,” “The Assembly of Continental Biotas: Geographic Range,” and “Synthesis: Biogeographic and Macroevolutionary Implications.”

  • Brown, James H., George C. Stevens, and Dawn M. Kaufman. 1996. The geographic range: Size, shape, boundaries, and internal structure. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 27:597–623.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.ecolsys.27.1.597

    The review starts by defining species and ranges. Each of the main topics—size of range, shape of range, range boundaries, and internal structure of the range—has a patterns section, which covers quantitative characteristics of the geographic range, and a processes section, which discusses mechanisms determining geographic range patterns.

  • de Wit, Rutger, and Thierry Bouvier. 2006. “Everything is everywhere, but, the environment selects”: What did Baas Becking and Beijerinck really say? Environmental Microbiology 8:755–758.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1462-2920.2006.01017.x

    The paper discusses the work of two microbiologists from the early 20th century. In particular, key phrases from Baas Becking 1934 are translated and discussed.

  • Gaston, Kevin J. 2003. The structure and dynamics of ranges. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    The topics covered in the book are range edges, range size, and abundance structure.

  • MacArthur, Robert H. 1972. Geographical ecology. New York: Harper & Row.

    The titles of the chapters are “Climates on a Rotating Earth,” “The Machinery of Competition and Predation,” “The Economics of Consumer Choice,” “The Geography of Species Classification,” “Island Patterns,” “Species Distributions,” “Patterns of Species Diversity,” “Comparisons of Temperate and Tropics,” and “The Role of History.” Mathematical equations for theoretical components of the book are in appendices.

  • Martiny, Jennifer B. Hughes, Brendan J. M. Bohannan, James H. Brown, et al. 2006. Microbial biogeography: Putting microorganisms on the map. Nature Reviews Microbiology 4:102–112.

    DOI: 10.1038/nrmicro1341

    The review covers the topics “A framework for microbial biogeography,” “Do microorganisms have biogeography?”, “Distinguishing between environment and history,” “Effects of environment and history,” and “What processes shape microbial biogeography?”.

  • Rapoport, Eduardo H. 1982. Areography: Geographical strategies of species. Translated by Barbara Drausal. Oxford: Pergamon.

    The book was originally published in Spanish in 1975. The version published in 1982 is an English translation of the original book with revisions. The topics addressed in the book are patterns of geographic ranges, methods for studying geographic ranges, barriers for geographic range expansion, and geographical and ecological areography.

  • Witman, Jon D., and Kaustuv Roy. 2009. Marine macroecology. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

    DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226904146.001.0001

    The book has three main parts: “Macroecological Patterns in the Sea,” “Processes Underlying Macroecological Patterns,” and “Experimental Approaches to Marine Macroecology.”

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