Elevational diversity gradients, biogeography and the structure of montane mammal communities in the intermountain region of North America



1 Distribution data were assembled for non-volant small mammals along elevational gradients on mountain ranges in the western U.S.A. Elevational distributions in the species-rich Uinta Mountains were compared to those on smaller mountain ranges with varying degrees of historical isolation from the Uintas.

2 For mountain ranges supporting the richest faunas, species richness is highest over a broad low- to mid-elevation zone and declines at both lower and higher elevations. Patterns on other mountain ranges are similar but reflect lower overall species richness.

3 A basic relationship between elevational and geographical distribution is apparent in the occurrence patterns of mammals on regional mountains. Faunas on mountains that have had low levels of historical isolation appear to be influenced by immigration rather than extinction. Species restricted to high elevations in the Uintas are poorly represented on historically isolated mountains and form a portion of local faunas shaped by extinction. Species occurring at lower elevations in the Uintas have better representation on isolated mountains and apparently maintain populations through immigration.

4 Several widespread species show substantial variation in maximum elevation records on different mountain ranges. This involves (1) an upward shift in habitat zones on small, isolated mountain ranges, allowing greater access by low-elevation species, and (2) expansion of certain low- and mid-elevation species into habitats normally occupied by absent high-elevation taxa.

5 Results indicate that montane mammal faunas of the intermountain region have been shaped by broad-scale historical processes, unique regional geography and local ecological dynamics. Parallel examples among mammals of the Philippine Islands suggest that such patterns may characterize many insular faunas.