Vertebrate range sizes indicate that mountains may be ‘higher’ in the tropics


*Correspondence and present address: CU Museum of Natural History, MCOL 265 UCB, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309-0265, USA. E-mail:


In 1967, Daniel Janzen proposed the influential, but largely untested hypothesis, that tropical mountain passes are physiologically higher than temperate mountains. I test his key prediction, the one upon which all the others rely: namely, that elevational range sizes of organisms get larger on mountains at increasing latitudes. My analyses use 170 montane gradients spanning 36.5° S to 48.2° N latitude compiled from over 80 years of research and 16 500 species of rodents, bats, birds, lizards, snakes, salamanders, and frogs. In support of Janzen’s prediction, I find that elevational range size increases with increasing latitude for all vertebrate groups except rodents. I document additional lines of evidence for temperature variability as a plausible mechanism for trends in vertebrate range size, including strong effects of thermoregulation and daily temperature variability, and a weak effect of precipitation.