Regional variation in the historical components of global avian species richness

GH Thomas, CDL Orme, RG Davies, VA Olson, PM Bennett, KJ Gaston, IPF Owens, Timothy Blackburn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

36 Citations (Scopus)


Aim Using a global data base of the distribution of extant bird species, we examine the evidence for spatial variation in the evolutionary origins of contemporary avian diversity. In particular, we assess the possible role of the timing of mountain uplift in promoting diversification in different regions. Location Global. Methods We mapped the distribution of avian richness at four taxonomic levels on an equal-area 1 degrees grid. We examined the relationships between richness at successive taxonomic levels (e.g. species richness vs. genus richness). We mapped the residuals from linear regressions of these relationships to identify areas that are exceptional in the number of lower taxa relative to the number of higher taxa. We use generalized least squares models to test the influence of elevation range and temperature on lower-taxon richness relative to higher-taxon richness. Results Peaks of species richness in the Neotropics were congruent with patterns of generic richness, whilst peaks in Australia and the Himalayas were congruent with patterns of both genus and family richness. Hotspots in the Afrotropics did not reflect higher-taxon patterns. Regional differences in the relationship between richness at successive taxonomic levels revealed variation in patterns of taxon co-occurrence. Species and genus co-occurrence was positively associated with elevational range across much of the world. Taxon occurrence in the Neotropics was associated with a positive interaction between elevational range and temperature. Conclusions These results demonstrate that contemporary patterns of richness show different associations with higher-taxon richness in different regions, which implies that the timing of historical effects on these contemporary patterns varies across regions. We suggest that this is due to dispersal limitation and phylogenetic constraints on physiological tolerance limits promoting diversification. We speculate that diversification rates respond to long-term changes in the Earth's topography, and that the role of tropical mountain ranges is implicated as a correlate of contemporary diversity, and a source of diversification across avian evolutionary history.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)340-351
Number of pages12
JournalGlobal Ecology and Biogeography
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2008


  • taxon ratios
  • biodiversity
  • topography
  • species richness
  • birds
  • orogeny


Dive into the research topics of 'Regional variation in the historical components of global avian species richness'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this