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The role of abiotic and biotic factors in determining coexistence of multiple pollinators in the yucca–yucca moth mutualism

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The determinants of a species' geographic distribution are a combination of both abiotic and biotic factors. Environmental niche modeling of climatic factors has been instrumental in documenting the role of abiotic factors in a species' niche. Integrating this approach with data from species interactions provides a means to assess the relative roles of abiotic and biotic components. Here, we examine whether the high host specificity typically exhibited in the active pollination mutualism between yuccas and yucca moths is the result of differences in climatic niche requirements that limit yucca moth distributions or the result of competition among mutualistic moths that would co‐occur on the same yucca species. We compared the species distribution models of two Tegeticula pollinator moths that use the geographically widespread plant Yucca filamentosa. Tegeticula yuccasella occurs throughout eastern North America whereas T. cassandra is restricted to the southeastern portion of the range, primarily occurring in Florida. Species distribution models demonstrate that T. cassandra is restricted climatically to the southeastern United States and T. yuccasella is predicted to be able to live across all of eastern North America. Data on moth abundances in Florida demonstrate that both moth species are present on Y. filamentosa; however, T. cassandra is numerically dominant. Taken together, the results suggest that moth geographic distributions are heavily influenced by climate, but competition among pollinating congeners will act to restrict populations of moth species that co‐occur.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: April 1, 2017

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