Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Biotic interactions help explain variation in elevational range limits of birds among Bornean mountains

January 7, 2020


Physiological tolerances and biotic interactions along habitat gradients are thought to influence species occurrence. Distributional differences caused by such forces are particularly noticeable on tropical mountains, where high species turnover along elevational gradients occurs over relatively short distances and elevational distributions of particular species can shift among mountains. Such shifts are interpreted as evidence of the importance of spatial variation in interspecific competition and habitat or climatic gradients. To assess the relative importance of competition and compression of habitat and climatic zones in setting range limits, we examined differences in elevational ranges of forest bird species among four Bornean mountains with distinct features.


Bornean mountains Kinabalu, Mulu, Pueh and Topap Oso.


Rain forest bird communities along elevational gradients.


We surveyed the elevational ranges of rain forest birds on four mountains in Borneo to test which environmental variables—habitat zone compression or presence of likely competitors—best predicted differences in elevational ranges of species among mountains. For this purpose, we used two complementary tests: a comparison of elevational range limits between pairs of mountains, and linear mixed models with naïve occupancy as the response variable.


We found that lowland species occur higher in elevation on two small mountains compared to Mt. Mulu. This result is inconsistent with the expectation that distributions of habitats are elevationally compressed on small mountains, but is consistent with the hypothesis that a reduction in competition (likely diffuse) on short mountains, which largely lack montane specialist species, allows lowland species to occur higher in elevation. The relative influence of competition changes with elevation, and the correlation between lower range limits of montane species and the distribution of their competitors was weaker than in lowland species.

Main conclusions

These findings provide support for the importance of biotic interactions in setting elevational range limits of tropical bird species, although abiotic gradients explain the majority of distribution patterns. Thus, models predicting range shifts under climate change scenarios must include not only climatic variables, as is currently most common, but also information on potentially resulting changes in species interactions, especially for lowland species.

Publication Year 2020
Title Biotic interactions help explain variation in elevational range limits of birds among Bornean mountains
DOI 10.1111/jbi.13784
Authors Ryan C. Burner, Andy J. Boyce, David Bernasconi, Alison R. Styring, Subir B. Shakya, Chandradewana Boer, Mustafa Abdul Rahman, Thomas E. Martin, Frederick H. Sheldon
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Journal of Biogeography
Index ID 70215289
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Coop Res Unit Seattle