Species turnover, or beta diversity, has been predicted to decrease with increasing latitude, but few studies have tested this relationship. Here, we examined the beta diversity–latitude relationship for vascular plants at a continental scale, based on complete species lists of native vascular plants for entire states or provinces in North America (north of Mexico). We calculated beta diversity as the slope of the relationship between the natural logarithm of the Jaccard index (lnJ ) for families, genera or species, and both geographic distance and climate difference within five latitude zones. We found that beta diversity decreased from south to north; within latitude zones, it decreased from species to genera and families. Geographic and climatic distance explained about the same proportion of the variance in lnJ in zones south of c. 50°N. North of this latitude, nearly all the explained variance in lnJ was attributable to geographic distance. Therefore, decreasing beta diversity from south to north reflects decreasing climate differentiation within more northerly latitude zones, and primarily post-glacial dispersal limitation north of 50°N.
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