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Elevational range-sizes and edaphic associations for plant species of the Mount Kinabalu region of Borneo (Sabah, Malaysia)

Cite this dataset

Whitman, Melissa et al. (2022). Elevational range-sizes and edaphic associations for plant species of the Mount Kinabalu region of Borneo (Sabah, Malaysia) [Dataset]. Dryad.


Identifying physical and ecological boundaries that limit where species can occur is important for predicting how those species will respond to global change. The island of Borneo encompasses a wide range of habitats that support some of the highest richness on Earth, making it an ideal location for investigating ecological mechanisms underlying broad patterns of species distribution. We tested variation in richness and range-size in relation to edaphic specialization and vegetation zone boundaries using 3060 plant species from 193 families centered around the elevational gradient of Mt. Kinabalu, Borneo. Across species, average range-size increased with elevation, consistent with Rapoport’s rule. However, plants associated with ultramafic soil, which is low in nutrient and water availability and often has high concentrations of heavy metals, had larger range-sizes and greater richness than expected along the elevational gradient, as compared to a null model with randomization of edaphic association. In contrast, non-ultramafic species had smaller range-sizes and lower richness than expected. These results suggest that tolerance of resource limitation may be associated with wider range-sizes, whereas species intolerant of edaphic stress may have narrower range-sizes, possibly owing to more intense competition in favorable soil types. Using elevation as a predictor of average range-sizes, we found that piece-wise models with breakpoints at vegetation zone transitions explained species distributions better than models that did not incorporate ecological boundaries. The greatest relative increases in range-size with respect to elevation occurred mid-elevation, within the montane cloud forest vegetation zone. Expansion of average range-size across an area without physical boundaries may indicate a shift in ecological strategy and importance of biotic versus abiotic stressors. Our results indicate that elevational range-size patterns are structured by ecological constraints such as species’ edaphic association, which may limit the ability of species to migrate up or down mountains in response to climate change.


This dataset includes summary information on elevational range-sizes and edaphic associations for 3060 vascular plant species in Nothern Borneo, Malaysia, with an emphasis on the Mount Kinabalu region. Data was compiled from multiple sources, including the Sabah Parks herbarium data, GBIF, and botanical monographs. Efforts were made to standardize nomenclature used for "Family", "Genus", and "Species" dataset columns. Species occurance along an elevational gradient was summarized in columns for the number of observations ("obs" column, which is used as a metric of rarity), elevation minimum ("elev.min" column), elevation maximum ("elev.max" column), and elevational range-size ("extent" column, which is the values of elev.max minus elev.min). All elevation values refer to meters above sea-level (m a.s.l). Edaphic association  ("edaphic.association" column) is the qualtiative interpretation of the frequency of occurance for species on ultramafic soil, with three categories used (ultramafic specialist, ultramafic tolerant, non-ultramafic), based on information available from herbarium records or habitat decriptions.

Updated dataset (dated 2022-02-07) includes addition of information on ~700 species (majority were previously excluded species due to single occurance records) using additional GBIF data, as well as updates for nomenclature, values for elevation minimum and maximum, or other entries if needed. Refer to metadata document for details on changes and usage.

Usage notes

Values for species with only one observation or an extent of zero were not included in this dataset due to minimum sample size criteria for range-size estimates or edaphic association classification methods. Single observation species that were excluded may represent an estimated half of the species richness for the region, thus this dataset may under-represent rare or information limited species.

Updated dataset (dated 2022-02-07) expands on the information available for previously excluded species; refer to metadata document for details on changes and usage.


National Science Foundation

University of Nebraska - Lincoln, Gretchen Beghtol Lee Fund

University of Nebraska - Lincoln, Myrle M. Burk Botany Memorial Fund

University of Nebraska - Lincoln, Amanda H. Heppner Fellowship Fund