Ecological biogeography of cephalopod molluscs in the Atlantic Ocean: historical and contemporary causes of coastal diversity patterns


*Present address: Centro de Oceanografia, Laboratório Marítimo da Guia, Faculdade de Ciências da Universidade de Lisboa, Avenida Nossa Senhora do Cabo, 939, 2750-374 Cascais, Portugal. E-mail:


Aim  One of the most recognized ecological paradigms on earth is the increase in species richness from the poles towards the equator. Here we undertake a comprehensive survey of the latitudinal gradients of species richness (LGSR) of coastal cephalopod fauna in the western (WA) and eastern margins (EA) of the Atlantic Ocean, and test climate and non-climate theories to explain the variation in diversity.

Location  The coastal Atlantic Ocean.

Methods  The diversity and geographical ranges of coastal cephalopods were investigated by means of an exhaustive survey of the primary literature, reports and on-line data bases. In order to test the productivity, ambient energy and area hypotheses, we investigated the relationship between diversity and net primary production (NPP), sea surface temperature (SST; measure of solar energy input) and continental shelf area, respectively.

Results  LGSR of cephalopod molluscs are present at both Atlantic coasts, but are quite distinct from each other. Historical processes (rise of the Central American Isthmus, formation of ‘Mare Lago’ and glaciations) explained much of the shape and the zenith of LGSR. Contemporary climate and non-climate variables also each explained over 83% and 50% of the richness variation in WA and EA, respectively, and the best fitted models accounted for > 92% of the variance. By combining latitude with depth a strong Rapoport effect was observed in WA but not in EA.

Main conclusions  Besides the evolutionary history, we demonstrate that the contemporary environmental gradients (SST and NPP), shelf area and extent of coral habitat can predict many of the diversity patterns. The longitudinal difference in Rapoport's bathymetric rule is attributed to western fauna specialization to shallow coral reef habitats and greater ecological tolerance of eastern fauna to upwelling ecosystem dynamics. A combined approach of historical biogeography and species–area–energy theories was essential to fully understand broad-scale variation in cephalopod biodiversity.