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Extinction and time help drive the marine‐terrestrial biodiversity gradient: is the ocean a deathtrap?

Miller, Elizabeth C., Wiens, John J.
Ecology letters 2017 v.20 no.7 pp. 911-921
biodiversity, extinction, habitats, phylogeny
The marine‐terrestrial richness gradient is among Earth's most dramatic biodiversity patterns, but its causes remain poorly understood. Here, we analyse detailed phylogenies of amniote clades, paleontological data and simulations to reveal the mechanisms underlying low marine richness, emphasising speciation, extinction and colonisation. We show that differences in diversification rates (speciation minus extinction) between habitats are often weak and inconsistent with observed richness patterns. Instead, the richness gradient is explained by limited time for speciation in marine habitats, since all extant marine clades are relatively young. Paleontological data show that older marine invasions have consistently ended in extinction. Simulations show that marine extinctions help drive the pattern of young, depauperate marine clades. This role for extinction is not discernible from molecular phylogenies alone, and not predicted by most previously hypothesised explanations for this gradient. Our results have important implications for the marine‐terrestrial biodiversity gradient, and studies of biodiversity gradients in general.