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Elevational gradients in ant species richness: area, geometry, and Rapoport's rule


  • Nathan J. Sanders

N. J. Sanders (, Dept of Biological Sciences, 371 Serra Mall, Stanford Univ., Stanford, CA 94305-5020, USA (present address: Dept of Biological Sciences, Humboldt State Univ., Arcata, CA 95521, USA).


Studying the distributions of plants and animals along environmental gradients can illuminate the factors governing and maintaining species diversity. There are two general predictions of how species richness and elevation are related: either species richness decreases monotonically with increasing elevation or richness peaks at mid-elevations. Several processes might contribute to this pattern. In this paper, I examine patterns in ant species richness along elevational gradients in three states in the western US: Colorado, Nevada, and Utah. I test for the effects of available area and the geometric constraints model on species richness patterns. I also test Rapoport's rescue hypothesis, which relates the extent of species’ elevational ranges to patterns in species richness. In each state, species richness peaked at mid-elevations. Area explained more variation in species richness than the geometric constraints model in Colorado and Utah, but not in Nevada. Area and geometric constraints together explained 90%, 99%, and 57% of the variation in species richness in Colorado, Nevada, and Utah, respectively. Even though there were peaks at mid-elevations, I still found a strong Rapoport effect. This work suggests that the influences of area and geometric constraints cannot be overlooked when examining patterns in species richness along environmental gradients.