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Data from: Dispersal barriers and climate determine the geographic distribution of the helicopter damselfly Mecistogaster modesta


Amundrud, Sarah L.; Videla, Martin; Srivastava, Diane S. (2018), Data from: Dispersal barriers and climate determine the geographic distribution of the helicopter damselfly Mecistogaster modesta, Dryad, Dataset,


Species’ ranges are typically constrained by the interplay of physical barriers to dispersal, environmental requirements such as suitable climatic conditions and biotic constraints such as from predation or competition. However, teasing apart the relative importance of these constraints in determining species distributions still represents a major challenge for ecologists. The Neotropical damselfly Mecistogaster modesta (Coenagrionidae: Odonata) inhabits wet and moist forests in mainland Central America and north-western South America. This habitat specialist spends its larval development exclusively in tank bromeliads, where it acts as a keystone predator within the aquatic food web. Although tank-forming bromeliads occur from the southern United States throughout most of South America, M. modesta is absent from the Caribbean islands and South America south-east of the Andes mountain chain. We employed species distribution models to explore the relative importance of physical barriers (Andes mountain range and oceanic barriers), climate (mean annual temperature and annual precipitation) and biotic interactions (competition from other bromeliad-dwelling odonates) in limiting the geographic distribution of M. modesta. We found that dispersal barriers strongly limit the geographic distribution of M. modesta. In addition, its range is restricted by low temperatures and low precipitation. Competition from other bromeliad-dwelling odonates was not important in limiting the damselfly's range. Because of the physical barriers to dispersal, M. modesta does not occupy its full potential geographic range. Specifically, our model predicted suitable habitat on the Caribbean islands and throughout most of South America, where the species is currently absent. These findings have important conservation implications, particularly as the aridification of rainforests and subsequent localised extinctions due to climate change continue. On the other hand, the species may respond to warming temperatures by tracking climate to higher elevations, with subsequent effects on naïve high-elevation bromeliad food webs. An upwards migration could also increase the probability of M. modesta overcoming the dispersal barrier presented by the Andes, enabling the damselfly to invade large areas of suitable habitat in South America.

Usage Notes


South America
Central America