Phylogenetic history underlies elevational biodiversity patterns in tropical salamanders

John J. Wiens, Gabriela Parra-Olea, Mario García-París, David B. Wake

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

173 Scopus citations


Elevational variation in species richness is ubiquitous and important for conservation, but remains poorly explained. Numerous studies have documented higher species richness at mid-elevations, but none have addressed the underlying evolutionary and biogeographic processes that ultimately explain this pattern (i.e. speciation, extinction and dispersal). Here, we address the evolutionary causes of the mid-elevational diversity hump in the most species-rich clade of salamanders, the tropical bolitoglossine plethodontids. We present a new phylogeny for the group based on DNA sequences from all 13 genera and 137 species. Using this phylogeny, we find no relationship between rates of diversification of clades and their elevational distribution, and no evidence for a rapid 'species pump' in tropical montane regions. Instead, we find a strong relationship between the number of species in each elevational zone and the estimated time when each elevational band was first colonized. Mid-elevation habitats were colonized early in the phylogenetic history of bolitoglossines, and given similar rates of diversification across elevations, more species have accumulated in the elevational zones that were inhabited the longest. This pattern may be widespread and suggests that mid-elevation habitats may not only harbour more species, but may also contain more phylogenetic diversity than other habitats within a region.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)919-928
Number of pages10
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1612
StatePublished - Apr 7 2007


  • Amphibians
  • Biodiversity
  • Elevation
  • Phylogeny
  • Speciation
  • Species richness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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