Terrestrial vertebrates show striking changes in species richness across topographic gradients. For mammals, nearly twice as many species per unit area occur in topographically complex regions as in adjacent lowlands. The geological context of this pervasive biogeographic pattern suggests that tectonic processes have a first-order impact on regional diversity.

I evaluate ecological, evolutionary, and historical influences of tectonics and topography on the regional diversity of terrestrial mammals, focusing on the hypothesis that diversification rates are higher in active versus passive tectonic settings. Ten predictions follow from this hypothesis. 1) The timing of peaks in speciation should be congruent with the timescale for tectonic episodes. 2) The rates of speciation and genetic differentiation of populations should be greater for species inhabiting topographically complex regions than spatially continuous landscapes. 3) If topographic complexity per se promotes diversification, then a cluster of young divergences should occur for montane species compared to lowland relatives. 4) Endemism in tectonically active regions should reflect origination within the region rather than range reduction from larger areas. 5) Extinction rates should differ for lineages in tectonically active regions compared to adjacent lowlands. 6) The relationship between local and regional species richness should differ between topographic settings because of higher beta diversity in topographically complex regions. 7) Species originating in topographically complex regions should colonize adjacent lowlands more often than the reverse pattern. 8) North-south mountain ranges should have higher regional species richness than east-west mountain ranges. 9) Areas with multiple mountain ranges should have higher regional species richness than comparable areas with single mountain ranges. 10) Global climate changes should affect diversification in tectonically active regions. Research addressing these topics places elevational diversity gradients into a geohistorical context and integrates data from modern biotas and the fossil record.