Background Centres of endemism have received much attention from evolutionists, biogeographers, ecologists and conservationists. Climatic stability is often cited as a major reason for the occurrences of these geographic concentrations of species which are not found anywhere else. The proposed linkage between endemism and climatic stability raises unanswered questions about the persistence of biodiversity during the present era of rapidly changing climate.
Key Questions The current status of evidence linking geographic centres of endemism to climatic stability over evolutionary time was examined. The following questions were asked. Do macroecological analyses support such an endemism–stability linkage? Do comparative studies find that endemic species display traits reflecting evolution in stable climates? Will centres of endemism in microrefugia or macrorefugia remain relatively stable and capable of supporting high biological diversity into the future? What are the implications of the endemism–stability linkage for conservation?
Conclusions Recent work using the concept of climate change velocity supports the classic idea that centres of endemism occur where past climatic fluctuations have been mild and where mountainous topography or favourable ocean currents contribute to creating refugia. Our knowledge of trait differences between narrow endemics and more widely distributed species remains highly incomplete. Current knowledge suggests that centres of endemism will remain relatively climatically buffered in the future, with the important caveat that absolute levels of climatic change and species losses in these regions may still be large.