Specific niche requirements underpin multidecadal range edge stability, but may introduce barriers for climate change adaptation

Type Article
Date 2021-04
Language English
Author(s) Firth Louise B1, 2, Harris Daniel3, Blaze Julie A4, Marzloff MartinORCID5, Boye AurelienORCID5, Miller Peter I6, Curd AmeliaORCID5, Vasquez MickaelORCID5, Dunn Julia D7, 8, O'Connor Nessa E9, Power Anne-Marie2, Mieszkowska Nova10, 11, O’riordan Ruth M12, Burrows Michael T13, Bricheno Lucy M14, Knights Anthony M1, Nunes FlaviaORCID5, Bordeyne François15, Bush Laura E16, Byers James E4, David Carmen5, Davies Andrew J16, 17, Dubois StanislasORCID5, Edwards Hugh18, Foggo Andy1, Grant Lisa2, Mattias Green Ja16, Gribben Paul E19, Lima Fernado P20, McGrath David21, Noel Laure Mlj15, Seabra Rui20, Simkanin Christina22, Hawkins Stephen J1, 10, 23
Affiliation(s) 1 : School of Biological and Marine Sciences, University of Plymouth, Plymouth, UK
2 : Zoology, School of Natural Sciences, National University of Ireland Galway, Galway, Ireland
3 : Estuary & Ocean Science Center, San Francisco State University, San Francisco, CA, USA
4 : School of Ecology, University of Georgia, Athens, GA, USA
5 : DYNECO, Laboratory of Coastal Benthic Ecology, Ifremer - Centre de Bretagne, Plouzané, France
6 : Remote Sensing Group, Plymouth Marine Laboratory, Plymouth, UK
7 : Centre for Environmental Data & Recording, National Museums Northern Ireland, Holywood, UK
8 : Windmill Lane, Portaferry, UK
9 : School of Natural Sciences, Trinity College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland
10 : Marine Biological Association of the UK, Plymouth, UK
11 : School of Environmental Sciences, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, UK
12 : School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences and Aquaculture and Fisheries Development Centre, Environmental Research Institute, University College Cork, Cork, Ireland
13 : Scottish Association for Marine Science, Oban, UK
14 : National Oceanography Centre, Liverpool, UK
15 : Sorbonne Université, Station Biologique de Roscoff, CNRS, UMR AD2M Adaptation et Diversité en Milieu Marin, Roscoff, France
16 : School of Ocean Sciences, Bangor University, Menai Bridge, UK
17 : College of the Environment and Life Sciences, University of Rhode Island, Kingston, RI, USA
18 : Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, Belfast, UK
19 : Centre for Marine Science and Innovation, School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW, Australia
20 : CIBIO/InBIO, Centro de Investigação em Biodiversidade e Recursos Genéticos, Universidade de Porto, Porto, Portugal
21 : Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, Galway, Ireland
22 : Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, Edgewater, MD, USA
23 : School of Ocean and Earth Science, National Oceanography Centre Southampton, University of Southampton, Southampton, UK
Source Diversity And Distributions (1366-9516) (Wiley / Blackwell), 2021-04 , Vol. 27 , N. 4 , P. 668-683
DOI 10.1111/ddi.13224
WOS© Times Cited 12
Keyword(s) biogenic habitat, biogeography, cold event, Irish Sea, macroecology, tidal front


To investigate some of the environmental variables underpinning the past and present distribution of an ecosystem engineer near its poleward range edge.


>500 locations spanning >7,400 km around Ireland.


We collated past and present distribution records on a known climate change indicator, the reef‐forming worm Sabellaria alveolata (Linnaeus, 1767) in a biogeographic boundary region over 182 years (1836–2018). This included repeat sampling of 60 locations in the cooler 1950s and again in the warmer 2000s and 2010s. Using species distribution modelling, we identified some of the environmental drivers that likely underpin S. alveolata distribution towards the leading edge of its biogeographical range in Ireland.


Through plotting 981 records of presence and absence, we revealed a discontinuous distribution with discretely bounded sub‐populations, and edges that coincide with the locations of tidal fronts. Repeat surveys of 60 locations across three time periods showed evidence of population increases, declines, local extirpation and recolonization events within the range, but no evidence of extensions beyond the previously identified distribution limits, despite decades of warming. At a regional scale, populations were relatively stable through time, but local populations in the cold Irish Sea appear highly dynamic and vulnerable to local extirpation risk. Contemporary distribution data (2013–2018) computed with modelled environmental data identified specific niche requirements which can explain the many distribution gaps, namely wave height, tidal amplitude, stratification index, then substrate type.

Main conclusions

In the face of climate warming, such specific niche requirements can create environmental barriers that may prevent species from extending beyond their leading edges. These boundaries may limit a species’ capacity to redistribute in response to global environmental change.

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Publisher's official version 16 2 MB Open access
Fig S1 1 3 MB Open access
Fig S2 1 881 KB Open access
Fig S3 1 1 MB Open access
TableS1 13 KB Open access
TableS2 22 KB Open access
Appendix 1 11 132 KB Open access
Appendix 2 1 59 KB Open access
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Firth Louise B, Harris Daniel, Blaze Julie A, Marzloff Martin, Boye Aurelien, Miller Peter I, Curd Amelia, Vasquez Mickael, Dunn Julia D, O'Connor Nessa E, Power Anne-Marie, Mieszkowska Nova, O’riordan Ruth M, Burrows Michael T, Bricheno Lucy M, Knights Anthony M, Nunes Flavia, Bordeyne François, Bush Laura E, Byers James E, David Carmen, Davies Andrew J, Dubois Stanislas, Edwards Hugh, Foggo Andy, Grant Lisa, Mattias Green Ja, Gribben Paul E, Lima Fernado P, McGrath David, Noel Laure Mlj, Seabra Rui, Simkanin Christina, Hawkins Stephen J (2021). Specific niche requirements underpin multidecadal range edge stability, but may introduce barriers for climate change adaptation. Diversity And Distributions, 27(4), 668-683. Publisher's official version : https://doi.org/10.1111/ddi.13224 , Open Access version : https://archimer.ifremer.fr/doc/00677/78938/