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Latitudinal patterns and regionalization of plant diversity along a 4270-km gradient in continental Chile



According to the global latitudinal diversity gradient, a decrease in animal and plant species richness exists from the tropics towards higher latitudes. The aim of this study was to describe the latitudinal distribution patterns of Chilean continental flora and delineate biogeographic regions along a 4270-km north–south gradient. We reviewed plant lists for each of the 39 parallels of continental Chile to build a database of the geographical distribution of vascular plant species comprising 184 families, 957 genera and 3787 species, which corresponded to 100%, 94.9% and 74.2% of the richness previously defined for Chile, respectively. Using this latitudinal presence–absence species matrix, we identified areas with high plant richness and endemism and performed a Cluster analysis using Jaccard index to delineate biogeographic regions. This study found that richness at family, genus and species levels follow a unimodal 4270-km latitudinal distribution curve, with a concentration of richness in central Chile (31–42°S). The 37th parallel south (central Chile) presented the highest richness for all taxonomic levels and in specific zones the endemism (22–37°S) was especially high. This unimodal pattern contrasts the global latitudinal diversity gradient shown by other studies in the Northern hemisphere. Seven floristic regions were identified in this latitudinal gradient: tropical (18–22°S), north Mediterranean (23–28°S), central Mediterranean (29–32°S), south Mediterranean (33–37°S), north temperate (38–42°S), south temperate (43–52°S) and Austral (53–56°S). This regionalization coincides with previous bioclimatic classifications and illustrates the high heterogeneity of the biodiversity in Chile and the need for a reconsideration of governmental conservation strategies to protect this diversity throughout Chile.