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      Global Gradients in Vertebrate Diversity Predicted by Historical Area-Productivity Dynamics and Contemporary Environment

      1 , * , 2

      PLoS Biology

      Public Library of Science

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          A novel hierarchical framework integrates the effects of time, area, productivity, and temperature at their respective relevant scales and successfully predicts the latitudinal gradient in global vertebrate diversity.


          Broad-scale geographic gradients in species richness have now been extensively documented, but their historical underpinning is still not well understood. While the importance of productivity, temperature, and a scale dependence of the determinants of diversity is broadly acknowledged, we argue here that limitation to a single analysis scale and data pseudo-replication have impeded an integrated evolutionary and ecological understanding of diversity gradients. We develop and apply a hierarchical analysis framework for global diversity gradients that incorporates an explicit accounting of past environmental variation and provides an appropriate measurement of richness. Due to environmental niche conservatism, organisms generally reside in climatically defined bioregions, or “evolutionary arenas,” characterized by in situ speciation and extinction. These bioregions differ in age and their total productivity and have varied over time in area and energy available for diversification. We show that, consistently across the four major terrestrial vertebrate groups, current-day species richness of the world's main 32 bioregions is best explained by a model that integrates area and productivity over geological time together with temperature. Adding finer scale variation in energy availability as an ecological predictor of within-bioregional patterns of richness explains much of the remaining global variation in richness at the 110 km grain. These results highlight the separate evolutionary and ecological effects of energy availability and provide a first conceptual and empirical integration of the key drivers of broad-scale richness gradients. Avoiding the pseudo-replication that hampers the evolutionary interpretation of non-hierarchical macroecological analyses, our findings integrate evolutionary and ecological mechanisms at their most relevant scales and offer a new synthesis regarding global diversity gradients.

          Author Summary

          Understanding what determines the distribution of biodiversity across the planet remains one of the critical challenges in biology and has gained particular urgency in the face of environmental change and accelerating species extinctions. Our study develops a novel analytical framework to jointly evaluate historical and contemporary environmental predictors of the latitudinal gradient in the diversity of terrestrial vertebrates. The number of vertebrate species is greater in warm, productive biomes, such as tropical forests, that have both a large size and a long evolutionary history. Using just a few key predictor variables—time, area, productivity, and temperature—we are now able to explain more than 80% of the variability in biodiversity among bioregions. By integrating each of these factors at both the regional and local scale in a hierarchical model, we are able to provide a consensus explanation for broad-scale diversity gradients that encompasses both ecological and evolutionary mechanisms.

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          Most cited references 94

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          Trends, rhythms, and aberrations in global climate 65 Ma to present.

          Since 65 million years ago (Ma), Earth's climate has undergone a significant and complex evolution, the finer details of which are now coming to light through investigations of deep-sea sediment cores. This evolution includes gradual trends of warming and cooling driven by tectonic processes on time scales of 10(5) to 10(7) years, rhythmic or periodic cycles driven by orbital processes with 10(4)- to 10(6)-year cyclicity, and rare rapid aberrant shifts and extreme climate transients with durations of 10(3) to 10(5) years. Here, recent progress in defining the evolution of global climate over the Cenozoic Era is reviewed. We focus primarily on the periodic and anomalous components of variability over the early portion of this era, as constrained by the latest generation of deep-sea isotope records. We also consider how this improved perspective has led to the recognition of previously unforeseen mechanisms for altering climate.
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            Terrestrial Ecoregions of the World: A New Map of Life on Earth

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              Community diversity: relative roles of local and regional processes.

              The species richness (diversity) of local plant and animal assemblages-biological communities-balances regional processes of species formation and geographic dispersal, which add species to communities, against processes of predation, competitive exclusion, adaptation, and stochastic variation, which may promote local extinction. During the past three decades, ecologists have sought to explain differences in local diversity by the influence of the physical environment on local interactions among species, interactions that are generally believed to limit the number of coexisting species. But diversity of the biological community often fails to converge under similar physical conditions, and local diversity bears a demonstrable dependence upon regional diversity. These observations suggest that regional and historical processes, as well as unique events and circumstances, profoundly influence local community structure. Ecologists must broaden their concepts of community processes and incorporate data from systematics, biogeography, and paleontology into analyses of ecological patterns and tests of community theory.

                Author and article information

                Role: Academic Editor
                PLoS Biol
                PLoS Biol
                PLoS Biology
                Public Library of Science (San Francisco, USA )
                March 2012
                March 2012
                27 March 2012
                : 10
                : 3
                [1 ]Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, United States of America
                [2 ]Department of Integrative Biology, University of California, Berkeley, California, United States of America
                Imperial College London, United Kingdom
                Author notes

                The author(s) have made the following declarations about their contributions: Conceived and designed the experiments: WJ PF. Performed the experiments: WJ PF. Analyzed the data: WJ PF. Contributed reagents/materials/analysis tools: WJ PF. Wrote the paper: WJ PF.

                Jetz, Fine. 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.
                Page count
                Pages: 11
                Research Article

                Life sciences


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