Understanding patterns of species richness at broad geographic extents remains one of the most challenging yet necessary scientific goals of our time. Many hypotheses have been proposed to account for spatial variation in species richness; among them, environmental determinants have played a central role. In this study, we use data on regional bat species richness in the New World to study redundancy and complementarity of three environmental hypotheses: energy, heterogeneity and seasonality. We accomplish this by partitioning variation in species richness among components associated with unique and combined effects of variables from each hypotheses, and by partitioning the overall richness gradient into gradients of species with varying breadths of geographic distribution.
These three environmental hypotheses explain most variation in the species richness gradient of all bats, but do not account for all positive spatial autocorrelation at short distances. Although environmental predictors are highly redundant, energy and seasonality explain different and complementary fractions of variation in species richness of all bats. On the other hand, heterogeneity variables contribute little to explain this gradient. However, results change dramatically when richness is estimated for groups of species with different sizes of geographic distribution. First, the amount of variation explained by environment decreases with a decrease in range size; this suggests that richness gradients of small-ranged species can not be explained as easily as those of broadly distributed species, as has been implied by analyses that do not consider differences in range size among species. Second, the relative contribution of environmental predictors to explained variation also changes with change in range size. Seasonality and energy are good predictors of species with broad distributions, but they loose almost all explanatory power for richness of species with small ranges. In contrast, heterogeneity, which is a relatively poor predictor of richness of species with large ranges, becomes the main predictor of richness gradients of species with restricted distributions. This suggests that range size is a different dimension on which heterogeneity and other environmental characteristics are complementary to each other. Our results suggest that determinants of species richness gradients might be complex, or at least more complex than many studies have previously suggested.