© 2015 Freeman, Mason. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. Species distributions are limited by a complex array of abiotic and biotic factors. In general, abiotic (climatic) factors are thought to explain species' broad geographic distributions, while biotic factors regulate species' abundance patterns at local scales. We used species distribution models to test the hypothesis that a biotic interaction with a tree, the Colombian oak (Quercus humboldtii), limits the broad-scale distribution of the Acorn Woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus) in the Northern Andes of South America. North American populations of Acorn Woodpeckers consume acorns from Quercus oaks and are limited by the presence of Quercus oaks. However, Acorn Woodpeckers in the Northern Andes seldom consume Colombian oak acorns (though may regularly drink sap from oak trees) and have been observed at sites without Colombian oaks, the sole species of Quercus found in South America. We found that climate-only models overpredicted Acorn Woodpecker distribution, suggesting that suitable abiotic conditions (e.g. in northern Ecuador) exist beyond the woodpecker's southern range margin. In contrast, models that incorporate Colombian oak presence outperformed climate-only models and more accurately predicted the location of the Acorn Woodpecker's southern range margin in southern Colombia. These findings support the hypothesis that a biotic interaction with Colombian oaks sets Acorn Woodpecker's broad-scale geographic limit in South America, probably because Acorn Woodpeckers rely on Colombian oaks as a food resource (possibly for the oak's sap rather than for acorns). Although empirical examples of particular plants limiting tropical birds' distributions are scarce, we predict that similar biotic interactions may play an important role in structuring the geographic distributions of many species of tropical montane birds with specialized foraging behavior.
Publication Source (Journal or Book title)
Freeman, B., & Mason, N. (2015). The geographic distribution of a tropical montane bird is limited by a tree: Acorn Woodpeckers (Melanerpes formicivorus) and Colombian oaks (Quercus humboldtii) in the Northern Andes. PLoS ONE, 10 (6) https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0128675