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The latitudinal gradient of beta diversity in relation to climate and topography for mammals in North America


*Correspondence: Hong Qian, Research and Collections Center, Illinois State Museum, 1011 East Ash Street, Springfield, IL 62703, USA.


Aim  Spatial turnover of species, or beta diversity, varies in relation to geographical distance and environmental conditions, as well as spatial scale. We evaluated the explanatory power of distance, climate and topography on beta diversity of mammalian faunas of North America in relation to latitude.

Location  North America north of Mexico.

Methods  The study area was divided into 313 equal-area quadrats (241 × 241 km). Faunal data for all continental mammals were compiled for these quadrats, which were divided among five latitudinal zones. These zones were comparable in terms of latitudinal and longitudinal span, climatic gradients and elevational gradients. We used the natural logarithm of the Jaccard index (lnJ) to measure species turnover between pairs of quadrats within each latitudinal zone. The slope of lnJ in relation to distance was compared among latitudinal zones. We used partial regression to partition the variance in lnJ into the components uniquely explained by distance and by environmental differences, as well as jointly by distance and environmental differences.

Results  Mammalian faunas of North America differ more from each other at lower latitudes than at higher latitudes. Regression models of lnJ in relation to distance, climatic difference and topographic difference for each zone demonstrated that these variables have high explanatory power that diminishes with latitude. Beta diversity is higher for zones with higher mean annual temperature, lower seasonality of temperature and greater topographic complexity. For each latitudinal zone, distance and environmental differences explain a greater proportion of the variance in lnJ than distance, climate or topography does separately.

Main conclusions  The latitudinal gradient in beta diversity of North American mammals corresponds to a macroclimatic gradient of decreasing mean annual temperature and increasing seasonality of temperature from south to north. Most of the variance in spatial turnover is explained by distance and environmental differences jointly rather than distance, climate or topography separately. The high predictive power of geographical distance, climatic conditions and topography on spatial turnover could result from the direct effects of physical limiting factors or from ecological and evolutionary processes that are also influenced by the geographical template.