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Local-regional relationships and the geographical distribution of species


Héctor T. Arita, Instituto de Ecología, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Apartado Postal 70–275, CP04510 México D. F., Mexico E-mail:


Aim  Local-regional (LR) species diversity plots were conceived to assess the contribution of regional and local processes in shaping the patterns of biological diversity, but have been used also to explore the scaling of diversity in terms of its alpha, beta, and gamma components. Here we explore the idea that patterns in the geographical ranges of species over a continent can determine the shape of small region to large region (SRLR) plots, which are equivalent to LR plots when comparing the diversity of sites at two regional scales.

Location  To test that idea, we analysed the diversity patterns at two regional scales for the mammals of North America, defined as the mainland from Alaska and Canada to Panama.

Method  We developed a theoretical model relating average range size of species over a large-scale region with its average regional point species diversity (RPD). Then, we generated a null model of expected SRLR plots based on theoretical predictions. Species diversities at two scales were modelled using linear and saturation functions for Type I and Type II SRLR relationships, respectively. We applied the models to the case of North American mammals by examining the regional diversity and the RPD for 21 large-scale quadrats (with area equal to 160,000 km2), arranged along a latitudinal gradient.

Results  Our model showed that continental and large-scale regional patterns of distribution of species can generate both types of SRLR relationship, and that these patterns can be reflected in LR plots without invoking any kind of local processes. We found that North American nonvolant mammals follow a Type I SRLR relationship, whereas bats follow a Type II pattern. This difference was linked to patterns in which species of the two mammalian groups distribute in geographical space.

Conclusion  Traditional LR plots and the new SRLR plots are useful tools in exploring the scaling of species diversity and in showing the relationship between distribution and diversity. Their usefulness in comparing the relative role of local and regional processes is, however, very limited.