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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Geographic location and phylogeny are the main determinants of the size of the geographical range in aquatic beetles

Pedro Abellán12* and Ignacio Ribera1

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Evolutionary Biology (CSIC-UPF), Passeig Maritim de la Barceloneta 37, 08003 Barcelona, Spain

2 Department of Bioscience, Aarhus University, Ny Munkegade 114, DK-8000 Aarhus C, Denmark

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2011, 11:344  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-11-344

Published: 28 November 2011



Why some species are widespread while others are very restricted geographically is one of the most basic questions in biology, although it remains largely unanswered. This is particularly the case for groups of closely related species, which often display large differences in the size of the geographical range despite sharing many other factors due to their common phylogenetic inheritance. We used ten lineages of aquatic Coleoptera from the western Palearctic to test in a comparative framework a broad set of possible determinants of range size: species' age, differences in ecological tolerance, dispersal ability and geographic location.


When all factors were combined in multiple regression models between 60-98% of the variance was explained by geographic location and phylogenetic signal. Maximum latitudinal and longitudinal limits were positively correlated with range size, with species at the most northern latitudes and eastern longitudes displaying the largest ranges. In lineages with lotic and lentic species, the lentic (better dispersers) display larger distributional ranges than the lotic species (worse dispersers). The size of the geographical range was also positively correlated with the extent of the biomes in which the species is found, but we did not find evidence of a clear relationship between range size and age of the species.


Our findings show that range size of a species is shaped by an interplay of geographic and ecological factors, with a phylogenetic component affecting both of them. The understanding of the factors that determine the size and geographical location of the distributional range of species is fundamental to the study of the origin and assemblage of the current biota. Our results show that for this purpose the most relevant data may be the phylogenetic history of the species and its geographical location.