Spatial congruence between ecotones and range restricted species: implications for conservation biogeography at the sub-continental scale

17 June 2009

Aim To examine whether at a sub-continental scale range-limited species tend to occur close to areas of transition between vegetation boundaries more often than expected by chance. Location South Africa and Lesotho. Methods We examined the relationship between the distance of a grid square to ecological transition areas between vegetation types and both avian and frog range-limited species richness in the quadrate. We used quadrates at a spatial resolution of quarter degree (15' x 15'  676 km2). Spatial congruence between areas representing range-restricted species and those representing ecological transition zones was assessed using a random draw technique. Results Species richness and range size rarity are generally negatively correlated with distance to transition areas between vegetation communities when analysed for the whole region for both groups. Although this relationship becomes weaker after controlling for environmental energy and topographic heterogeneity, the explanatory power of distance to transition areas remained significant, and compared to the different biomes examined, accounts for most of the variation in bird richness (20%), frog richness (18%), range restricted bird species (17%), and range restricted frog species (16%) in the savanna biome. The random draw technique indicated that areas representing range restricted species were situated significantly closer in space to those areas representing transition areas between vegetation communities than expected by chance. Main conclusions We find that at the sub-continental scale, when examined for South Africa, areas of transition between vegetation communities hold concentrations of range-limited species in both birds and frogs. We find that South African endemic / range-limited birds and frogs are located closer to ecological transition zones than endemics and non-endemics combined. This has important implications for ongoing conservation planning in a biogeographical context.