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Research Technical Report

The Limits to Biogeographical Distributions: Insights from the Northward Range Extension of the Marine Snail, Kelletia kelletii

Zacherl, D., S.D. Gaines, and S.I. Lonhart (June 2003)

Journal of Biogeography 30:913-924


The development of accurate models predicting species range shifts in response to climate change requires studies on the population biology of species whose distributional limits are in the process of shifting. We examine the population biology of an example system using the recent northward range expansion of the marine neogastropod Kelletia kelletii (Forbes, 1852).

This is a marine coastal shelf neogastropod species whose range extends from Isla Asuncion (Baja California, Mexico) to Monterey (CA, USA). Research sites spanned the extent of the range.

We examine abundance distributions and size frequency distributions of K. kelletii for evidence of factors determining historic and contemporary distributional patterns. Population studies were supplemented by historic and contemporary hydrographic data, including seawater temperature data from California Cooperative Oceanic Fisheries Investigations (CalCOFI ) and National Data Buoy Center (NDBC), and seawater circulation data.

The structure of recently established populations varied dramatically from that of historic populations. Markedly low densities and irregular size frequency distributions characterized recently established populations and suggested only occasionally successful recruitment. The point of transition between historic and recently established populations also corresponded to the location of a gradient in seawater temperature and the confluence of two major oceanic currents. The accumulated data suggest that temperature and/or barriers to dispersal could have set both contemporary patterns in population structure as well as the former northern range limit.

Early life stages play a critical role in determining distributional patterns of K. kelletii. Dispersal barriers and temperature limitation are two plausible mechanisms that could determine both contemporary and historic distributional patterns. Future studies on this species should attempt to tease apart the relative importance of these factors in maintaining the populations at the northern edge of the range.

Reviewed: April 11, 2024
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