Time Explains Regional Richness Patterns within Clades More Often than Diversification Rates or Area

Hong Li, John J. Wiens

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Most groups of organisms occur in multiple regions and have different numbers of species in different regions. These richness patterns are directly explained by speciation, extinction, and dispersal. Thus, regional richness patterns may be explained by differences in when regions were colonized (more time for speciation in regions colonized earlier), differences in how often they were colonized, or differences in diversification rates (speciation minus extinction) among regions (with diversification rates potentially influenced by area, climate, and/or many other variables). Few studies have tested all three factors, and most that did examined them only in individual clades. Here, we analyze a diverse set of 15 clades of plants and animals to test the causes of regional species richness patterns within clades. We find that time was the sole variable significantly explaining richness patterns in the best-fitting models for most clades (10/15), whereas time combined with other factors explained richness in all others. Time was the most important factor explaining richness in 13 of 15 clades, and it explained 72% of the variance in species richness among regions across all 15 clades (on average). Surprisingly, time was increasingly important in older and larger clades. In contrast, the area of the regions was relatively unimportant for explaining these regional richness patterns. A systematic review yielded 15 other relevant studies, which also overwhelmingly supported time over diversification rates (13 to 1, with one study supporting both diversification rates and time). Overall, our results suggest that colonization time is a major factor explaining regional-scale richness patterns within clades (e.g., families).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)514-529
Number of pages16
JournalThe American naturalist
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2019


  • area
  • biogeography
  • diversification
  • species richness
  • time for speciation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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