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Abstract Aim To evaluate the influence of environment and biogeographical region, as a proxy for historical influence, on the ecological structure of Holarctic communities from similar environments. It is assumed that similarities among communities from similar environments in different realms are the result of convergence, whereas their differences are interpreted as being due to different historical processes. Location Holarctic realm, North America and Eurasia above 25° N. Methods Checklists of mammalian species occurring in 96 Holarctic localities were collected from published sources. Species were assigned to one of 20 functional groups defined by diet, body size and three-dimensional use of space. The matrix composed of the frequencies of functional groups in the 96 localities is used as input data in a correspondence analysis (CA). The localities are classified into nine groups according to Bailey's ecoregions (used as a surrogate of regional climate), and the positions of the communities in the dimensions of the CA are compared in relation to ecoregion and realm. Partial regression was used to test for the relative influence of ecoregion and realm over each dimension and to evaluate the effect of biogeographical realm on the variation in the factor scores of the communities of the same ecoregion. Results In some cases, mammalian communities from areas with similar regional climates exhibit convergence in community structure, irrespective of the biogeographical realm where they are located. However, all of them are clearly subdivided into Nearctic and Palearctic subsets. Differences in the composition of the regional pools only partially explain differences in local communities between realms. Main conclusions Holarctic mammalian communities from regions with widely different climates differ in ecological structure irrespective of their biogeographical location. On the other hand, the structures of Nearctic and Palearctic communities from regions of similar climate radically differ in some features. Thus, although present climatic conditions influence community structure, contingent historic processes associated with each region also play a major role in determining community structure.