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Different evolutionary histories underlie congruent species richness gradients of birds and mammals


Bradford A. Hawkins, Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, University of California, Irvine, CA 92696, USA.


Aim  The global species richness patterns of birds and mammals are strongly congruent. This could reflect similar evolutionary responses to the Earth’s history, shared responses to current climatic conditions, or both. We compare the geographical and phylogenetic structures of both richness gradients to evaluate these possibilities.

Location  Global.

Methods  Gridded bird and mammal distribution databases were used to compare their species richness gradients with the current environment. Phylogenetic trees (resolved to family for birds and to species for mammals) were used to examine underlying phylogenetic structures. Our first prediction is that both groups have responded to the same climatic gradients. Our phylogenetic predictions include: (1) that both groups have similar geographical patterns of mean root distance, a measure of the level of the evolutionary development of faunas, and, more directly, (2) that richness patterns of basal and derived clades will differ, with richness peaking in the tropics for basal clades and in the extra-tropics for derived clades, and that this difference will hold for both birds and mammals. We also explore whether alternative taxonomic treatments for mammals can generate patterns matching those of birds.

Results  Both richness gradients are associated with the same current environmental gradients. In contrast, neither of our evolutionary predictions is met: the gradients have different phylogenetic structures, and the richness of birds in the lowland tropics is dominated by many basal species from many basal groups, whereas mammal richness is attributable to many species from both few basal groups and many derived groups. Phylogenetic incongruence is robust to taxonomic delineations for mammals.

Main conclusions  Contemporary climate can force multiple groups into similar diversity patterns even when evolutionary trajectories differ. Thus, as widely appreciated, our understanding of biodiversity must consider responses to both past and present climates, and our results are consistent with predictions that future climate change will cause major, correlated changes in patterns of diversity across multiple groups irrespective of their evolutionary histories.