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Spatial imprints of plate tectonics on extant richness of terrestrial vertebrates

Descombes, Patrice, Leprieur, Fabien, Albouy, Camille, Heine, Christian, Pellissier, Loïc
Journal of biogeography 2017 v.44 no.5 pp. 1185-1197
amphibians, birds, climate change, mammals, species diversity, tectonics, Australia, Eastern Africa, Indo-Australian Archipelago, Madagascar
AIM: In interaction with past climate changes, it is likely that plate tectonics contributed to the shaping of current global species diversity, but so far this has not been statistically quantified at the global level. Here, we tested whether plate tectonics since the breakup of Gondwana left an imprint on current patterns of species richness of amphibians, birds and mammals. LOCATION: Global. METHODS: We reconstructed the absolute positions of continental plates since the Early Cretaceous and used this information to derive variables of latitudinal shifts and potential exchanges among landmasses that could have modulated species richness. Using a multi‐model inference approach combining both contemporary and historical variables, we quantified the relative importance of variables related to plate tectonics in explaining the spatial variation of the richness of amphibians, birds and mammals. Next, we employed a moving window approach to test whether plate tectonics left a more marked imprint in specific regions. RESULTS: Plate tectonics left an imprint on current patterns of vertebrate species richness in geologically singular regions, especially in the Indo‐Australian Archipelago and the region comprising eastern Africa and Madagascar. For birds and mammals, but not amphibians, we found a marked contrast in species richness across Australia and Southeast Asia and eastern Africa and Madagascar associated with plate tectonics. Moreover, the relationship between species richness and plate tectonics varied across taxonomic orders for birds and mammals. MAIN CONCLUSIONS: While no general imprint of plate tectonics was detected at the global scale, our regional analysis highlighted a substantial role of geodynamics in shaping current patterns of vertebrate species richness in Southeast Asia and Madagascar. Future studies should integrate the full range of processes associated with plate tectonics, including orogeny, not considered here.