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      Faster Speciation and Reduced Extinction in the Tropics Contribute to the Mammalian Latitudinal Diversity Gradient

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          Jonathan Rolland and colleagues show that the gradient of increased mammalian diversity towards the tropics is driven by both faster speciation and reduced extinction.


          The increase in species richness from the poles to the tropics, referred to as the latitudinal diversity gradient, is one of the most ubiquitous biodiversity patterns in the natural world. Although understanding how rates of speciation and extinction vary with latitude is central to explaining this pattern, such analyses have been impeded by the difficulty of estimating diversification rates associated with specific geographic locations. Here, we use a powerful phylogenetic approach and a nearly complete phylogeny of mammals to estimate speciation, extinction, and dispersal rates associated with the tropical and temperate biomes. Overall, speciation rates are higher, and extinction rates lower, in the tropics than in temperate regions. The diversity of the eight most species-rich mammalian orders (covering 92% of all mammals) peaks in the tropics, except that of the Lagomorpha (hares, rabbits, and pikas) reaching a maxima in northern-temperate regions. Latitudinal patterns in diversification rates are strikingly consistent with these diversity patterns, with peaks in species richness associated with low extinction rates (Primates and Lagomorpha), high speciation rates (Diprotodontia, Artiodactyla, and Soricomorpha), or both (Chiroptera and Rodentia). Rates of range expansion were typically higher from the tropics to the temperate regions than in the other direction, supporting the “out of the tropics” hypothesis whereby species originate in the tropics and disperse into higher latitudes. Overall, these results suggest that differences in diversification rates have played a major role in shaping the modern latitudinal diversity gradient in mammals, and illustrate the usefulness of recently developed phylogenetic approaches for understanding this famous yet mysterious pattern.

          Author Summary

          Why are there more species in the tropics? This question has fascinated ecologists and evolutionary biologists for decades, generating hundreds of hypotheses, yet basic questions remain: Are rates of speciation higher in the tropics? Are rates of extinction higher in temperate regions? Do the tropics act as a source of diversity for temperate regions? We estimated rates of speciation, extinction, and range expansion associated with mammals living in tropical and temperate regions, using an almost complete mammalian phylogeny. Contrary to what has been suggested before for this class of vertebrates, we found that diversification rates are strikingly consistent with diversity patterns, with latitudinal peaks in species richness being associated with high speciation rates, low extinction rates, or both, depending on the mammalian order (rodents, bats, primates, etc.). We also found evidence for an asymmetry in range expansion, with more expansion “out of” than “into” the tropics. Taken together, these results suggest that tropical regions are not only a reservoir of biodiversity, but also the main place where biodiversity is generated.

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          Most cited references 36

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          The delayed rise of present-day mammals.

          Did the end-Cretaceous mass extinction event, by eliminating non-avian dinosaurs and most of the existing fauna, trigger the evolutionary radiation of present-day mammals? Here we construct, date and analyse a species-level phylogeny of nearly all extant Mammalia to bring a new perspective to this question. Our analyses of how extant lineages accumulated through time show that net per-lineage diversification rates barely changed across the Cretaceous/Tertiary boundary. Instead, these rates spiked significantly with the origins of the currently recognized placental superorders and orders approximately 93 million years ago, before falling and remaining low until accelerating again throughout the Eocene and Oligocene epochs. Our results show that the phylogenetic 'fuses' leading to the explosion of extant placental orders are not only very much longer than suspected previously, but also challenge the hypothesis that the end-Cretaceous mass extinction event had a major, direct influence on the diversification of today's mammals.
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            Evolution and the latitudinal diversity gradient: speciation, extinction and biogeography.

            A latitudinal gradient in biodiversity has existed since before the time of the dinosaurs, yet how and why this gradient arose remains unresolved. Here we review two major hypotheses for the origin of the latitudinal diversity gradient. The time and area hypothesis holds that tropical climates are older and historically larger, allowing more opportunity for diversification. This hypothesis is supported by observations that temperate taxa are often younger than, and nested within, tropical taxa, and that diversity is positively correlated with the age and area of geographical regions. The diversification rate hypothesis holds that tropical regions diversify faster due to higher rates of speciation (caused by increased opportunities for the evolution of reproductive isolation, or faster molecular evolution, or the increased importance of biotic interactions), or due to lower extinction rates. There is phylogenetic evidence for higher rates of diversification in tropical clades, and palaeontological data demonstrate higher rates of origination for tropical taxa, but mixed evidence for latitudinal differences in extinction rates. Studies of latitudinal variation in incipient speciation also suggest faster speciation in the tropics. Distinguishing the roles of history, speciation and extinction in the origin of the latitudinal gradient represents a major challenge to future research.
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              The placental mammal ancestor and the post-K-Pg radiation of placentals.

              To discover interordinal relationships of living and fossil placental mammals and the time of origin of placentals relative to the Cretaceous-Paleogene (K-Pg) boundary, we scored 4541 phenomic characters de novo for 86 fossil and living species. Combining these data with molecular sequences, we obtained a phylogenetic tree that, when calibrated with fossils, shows that crown clade Placentalia and placental orders originated after the K-Pg boundary. Many nodes discovered using molecular data are upheld, but phenomic signals overturn molecular signals to show Sundatheria (Dermoptera + Scandentia) as the sister taxon of Primates, a close link between Proboscidea (elephants) and Sirenia (sea cows), and the monophyly of echolocating Chiroptera (bats). Our tree suggests that Placentalia first split into Xenarthra and Epitheria; extinct New World species are the oldest members of Afrotheria.

                Author and article information

                Role: Academic Editor
                PLoS Biol
                PLoS Biol
                PLoS Biology
                Public Library of Science (San Francisco, USA )
                January 2014
                January 2014
                28 January 2014
                : 12
                : 1
                [1 ]CNRS, UMR 7641 Centre de Mathématiques Appliquées (Ecole Polytechnique), Palaiseau, France
                [2 ]UMR 7204 MNHN–CNRS–UPMC Centre d'Ecologie et de Sciences de la Conservation, Museum National d'Histoire Naturelle, CP51, Paris, France
                Australian National University, Australia
                Author notes

                The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

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


                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
                Funding was provided by the Chaire Modélisation Mathématique et Biodiversité of Véolia Environnement - Ecole Polytechnique - Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle - Fondation X, the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), and grant ECOEVOBIO-CHEX2011 from the French National Research Agency (ANR) awarded to HM. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.
                Research Article
                Evolutionary Biology

                Life sciences


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