On the macroecological significance of eco-evolutionary dynamics: the range shift-niche breadth hypothesis

Lesley T. Lancaster*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


Global correlations of range size and niche breadth, and their relationship to latitude, have long intrigued ecologists and biogeographers. Study of these patterns has given rise to a number of hypothesized ecological and evolutionary processes purported to shape biogeographic outcomes, including the climate variability hypothesis, oscillation hypothesis, ecological opportunity, competitive release and taxon cycles. Here, I introduce the alternative range shift-niche breadth hypothesis, which posits that broader niches and larger range sizes are jointly determined under eco-evolutionary processes unique to expanding ranges, which may or may not be adaptive, but which co-shape observed latitudinal gradients in niche breadth and range size during periods of widespread range expansion. I formulate this hypothesis in comparison against previous hypotheses, exploring how each relies on equilibrium versus non-equilibrium evolutionary processes, faces differing issues of definition and scale, and results in alternative predictions for comparative risk and resilience of global ecosystems. Such differences highlight that accurate understanding of process is critical when applying macroecological insight to biodiversity forecasting. Furthermore, past conceptual emphasis on a central role of local adaptation under equilibrium conditions may have obscured a ubiquitous role of non-equilibrium evolutionary processes for generating many important, regional and global macroecological patterns. This article is part of the theme issue 'Species' ranges in the face of changing environments (part I)'.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20210013
Number of pages8
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1846
Early online date24 Jan 2022
Publication statusPublished - 14 Mar 2022

Bibliographical note

Acknowledgements. Thank you to the organizing committee of the CeMEB Evolution of Species Ranges symposium, University of Gothenberg, for the opportunity to contribute to the symposium and resulting special issue. Thanks also to Jake Alexander and the reviewers for valuable feedback


  • range shifts
  • evolution
  • biogeogrpahy
  • niche breadth
  • SIZE


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