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Marine latitudinal diversity gradients: Tests of causal hypotheses

The National Academy of Sciences
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  • Biological Sciences
  • Biology
  • Ecology


Latitudinal diversity gradients are first-order expressions of diversity patterns both on land and in the oceans, although the current hypotheses that seek to explain them are based chiefly on terrestrial data. We have assembled a database of the geographic ranges of 3,916 species of marine prosobranch gastropods living on the shelves of the western Atlantic and eastern Pacific Oceans, from the tropics to the Arctic Ocean. Western Atlantic and eastern Pacific diversities are similar, and the diversity gradients are strikingly similar despite many important physical and historical differences between the oceans. This shared diversity pattern cannot be explained by: (i) latitudinal differences in species range-length (Rapoport’s rule); (ii) species-area effects; or (iii) recent geologic histories. One parameter that does correlate significantly with diversity in both oceans is solar energy input, as represented by average sea surface temperature. If this correlation is causal, sea surface temperature is probably linked to diversity through some aspect of productivity. In this case, diversity is an evolutionary outcome of trophodynamic processes inherent in ecosystems, and not just a byproduct of physical geographies.

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