The latitudinal diversity gradient has been hypothesized to reflect past evolutionary dynamics driven by climatic niche conservation during cladogenesis, i.e. the tropical conservatism hypothesis. Here we show that the species diversity of treefrogs (Hylidae) across the western hemisphere is actually independent of evolutionary niche dynamics. We evaluated three key predictions of the tropical conservatism hypothesis that relate to the relationships between climate, species richness and the phylogenetic structure of regional treefrog faunas across the continental Americas. Species composition was dependent on the inability of some lineages to evolve cold tolerance, but the actual number of species in a region was strongly predicted by precipitation, not temperature. Moreover, phylogenetic structure was independent of precipitation. Thus, species in low-richness areas were no more closely related than species in highly diverse regions. These results provide no support for the tropical conservatism hypothesis. Instead, they show that regional species composition and richness are constrained by different climatic components, demonstrating that global biodiversity gradients can be independent of niche stasis during cladogenesis.