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Mammalian species richness and morphological complexity along an elevational gradient in the arid south-west

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AimWe examined the relationship between species richness and morphological complexity of terrestrial mammal communities along an elevational gradient.

LocationThe gradient is in the Sonoran Desert in Southern California and extends from a sand dune habitat near sea level to coniferous forest ending at >2600 m.

MethodsMorphological diversity, characterized by both size and shape of coexisting mammal species, was estimated within and between sites from projections of variables on principal components axes. Similarities among species were calculated as Euclidean distances. To tease apart size and shape, we constructed two principal component analyses: one based on log-transformed original measurements, the other on log-transformed proportional shape variables. To test whether species number accounted for the morphological diversity at each site we designed two null models. The models generated were random communities generated from the forty-two-species pool. Indices of morphological diversity for real communities were compared with the results of 500 simulations of each null model.

ResultsSpecies richness varied along the gradient, peaking in the mid-elevation agave-ocotillo habitat. Morphological diversity of shapes and sizes correlated strongly with species richness. Locomotor, tooth, and skull traits were all important in distinguishing among species.

Main conclusionsTwo important patterns emerged: (1) diversity of both sizes and of shapes of species within communities correlated positively with species number, and both sets of variables behaved similarly across this gradient; (2) the most species rich sites were not composed of specialists on these best places, but rather, a community of species derived from overlapping faunal groups.
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Keywords: Mammals; elevation; morphological diversity; shape; size; species richness

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1Department of Biology, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM 87131, U.S.A. and Department of Wildlife, Fish and Conservation, University of California, Davis, CA 95616, U.S.A.

Publication date: 1999-07-01

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