Species diversity gradients: we know more and less than we thought

M. L. Rosenzweig

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

336 Scopus citations


Patterns in the diversity of species begin to make sense when we reduce them to well-known biological processes and specify the scale of the pattern. Doing this explains why diversity declines away from the tropics (the latitudinal diversity gradient). The extensive tropical regions supply more opportunities for large geographical ranges than any other biome. Allopatric speciation feeds on such large ranges. The large regions of the tropics also probably inhibit extinction. It is a mistake to explain the richness of the tropics by noting that there are more habitats in the tropics. The global scale develops in evolutionary time. On that scale, fine habitat subdivision is a coevolved property of the species in a biome. The more species, the finer they subdivide habitats. So, it is also wrong to imagine that the tropical gradient is nothing more than a species-area curve. The species-area curve is a pattern that exists on a more local scale than the latitudinal gradient, and depends on habitat variability growing as larger areas get included in a sample. Until recently, theory maintained that higher productivity should sustain more species. Evidence from poorer environments supports that theory. But most empirical evidence, including most experiments, show that diversity declines as productivity rises. -from Author

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)715-730
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Mammalogy
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1992

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Genetics
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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