The latitudinal species richness gradient in New World woody angiosperms is consistent with the tropical conservatism hypothesis
Plant diversity, like that of most other taxonomic groups, peaks in the tropics, where climatic conditions are warm and wet, and it declines toward the temperate and polar zones as conditions become colder and drier, with more seasonally variable temperatures. Climate and evolutionary history are often considered competing explanations for the latitudinal gradient, but they are linked by the evolutionarily conserved environmental adaptations of species and the history of Earth's climate system. The tropical conservatism hypothesis (TCH) invokes niche conservatism, climatic limitations on establishment and survival, and paleoclimatic history to explain the latitudinal diversity gradient. Here, we use latitudinal distributions for over 12,500 woody angiosperm species, a fossil-calibrated supertree, and null modeling to test predictions of the TCH. Regional assemblages in the northern and southern temperate zones are less phylogenetically diverse than expected based on their species richness, because temperate taxa are clustered into relatively few clades. Moreover, lineages with temperate affinities are generally younger and nested within older, more tropical lineages. As predicted by the TCH, the vast majority of temperate lineages have arisen since clobal cooling began at the Eocene-Oligocene boundary (34 Mya). By linking physiological tolerances of species to evolutionary and biogeographic processes, phylogenetic niche conservatism may provide a theoretical framework for a generalized explanation for Earth's predominant pattern of biodiversity.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America