Diversification rates and species richness across the Tree of Life

Joshua P. Scholl, John J. Wiens

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

104 Scopus citations


Species richness varies dramatically among clades across the Tree of Life, by over a million-fold in some cases (e.g. placozoans versus arthropods). Two major explanations for differences in richness among clades are the cladeage hypothesis (i.e. species-rich clades are older) and the diversification-rate hypothesis (i.e. species-rich clades diversify more rapidly, where diversification rate is the net balance of speciation and extinction over time). Here, we examine patterns of variation in diversification rates across the Tree of Life. We address how rates vary across higher taxa, whether rates within higher taxa are related to the subclades within them, and how diversification rates of clades are related to their species richness. We find substantial variation in diversification rates, with rates in plants nearly twice as high as in animals, and rates in some eukaryotes approximately 10-fold faster than prokaryotes. Rates for each kingdom-level clade are then significantly related to the subclades within them. Although caution is needed when interpreting relationships between diversification rates and richness, a positive relationship between the two is not inevitable. We find that variation in diversification rates seems to explain most variation in richness among clades across the Tree of Life, in contrast to the conclusions of previous studies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20161334
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1838
StatePublished - Sep 14 2016


  • Animals
  • Diversification rates
  • Eukaryotes
  • Phylogeny
  • Prokaryotes
  • Species richness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • General Environmental Science
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


Dive into the research topics of 'Diversification rates and species richness across the Tree of Life'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this