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Patterns of plant beta‐diversity along elevational and latitudinal gradients in mountain forests of China

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Biodiversity patterns and their underlying mechanisms have long been focal topics of study for ecologists and biogeographers. However, compared with spatial variation in species richness (α‐ and γ‐diversity), β‐diversity, or the dissimilarity of species composition between two or more sites has until recently received limited attention. In this study, we explored the large‐scale patterns of altitudinal turnover (β‐diversity) of plants in montane forests of China, based on systematic inventories of 1153 plots from 46 mountains distributed over ˜30 degrees of latitude (21.9–51.7°N) and ˜4100 m of altitude (160–4250 m). The β‐diversity of trees and shrubs declined significantly with increasing latitude. Along the altitudinal gradient, β‐diversity of both trees and shrubs showed non‐significant trends in most mountains. Differences in climate explained ˜30.0% of the variation in tree β‐diversity (27.7, 36.5, and 26.2% for the Jaccard's, βj, Sorenson's, βs, and Simpson's dissimilarity, βsim, respectively), with mean annual temperature being most important, and ≤ 10.0% of that in shrub β‐diversity (10.0, 8.2, and 7.0% for βj, βs, and βsim, respectively), with annual actual evapotranspiration and annual precipitation as the main predictors. However, climatic controls of β‐diversity varied dramatically in different biogeograpical regions. The β‐diversity of trees exhibited stronger, whereas that of shrubs showed weaker, climatic patterns in temperate and arid than subtropical regions. These results suggest that mechanisms causing patterns of β‐diversity may differ between latitudinal and altitudinal gradients, and among biogeographical regions; as a result, caution should be exercised in drawing close parallels between patterns and causes of β‐diversity along latitudinal and altitudinal gradients and among regions.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Dept of Ecology, College of Urban and Environmental Sciences, and MOE Laboratory for Earth Surface Processes, Peking Univ., Beijing 100871, China.

Publication date: December 1, 2012

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