Aim To determine if it is possible to generate analytically derived regionalizations for multiple groups of European plants and animals and to explore potential influences on the regions for each taxonomic group.
Methods We subjected range maps of trees, butterflies, reptiles, amphibians, birds and mammals to k-means clustering followed by v-fold cross-validation to determine the pattern and number of regions (clusters). We then used the mean range sizes of species in each group as a correlate of the number of regions obtained for each taxon, and climate and species richness gradients as correlates of the spatial arrangement of the group-specific regions. We also included the pattern of tree clusters as a predictor of animal clusters in order to test the ‘habitat templet’ concept as an explanation of animal distribution patterns.
Results Spatially coherent clusters were found for all groups. The number of regions ranged from three to eight and was strongly associated with the mean range sizes of the species in each taxon. The cluster patterns of all groups were associated with various combinations of climate, underlying species richness gradients and, in the case of animals, the arrangement of tree clusters, although the rankings of the correlates differed among groups. In four of five groups the tree pattern was the strongest single predictor of the animal cluster patterns.
Main conclusions Despite a long history of human disturbance and habitat modification, the European biota retains a discernable biogeographic structure. The primary driver appears to be aspects of climate related to water–energy balance, which also influence richness gradients. For many animals, the underlying habitat structure, as measured by tree distributions, appears to have a strong influence on their biogeographic structure, highlighting the need to preserve natural forest formations if we want to preserve the historical signal found in geographic distributions.