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Over the top: do thermal barriers along elevation gradients limit biotic similarity?

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Organismal dispersal through mountain passes should be more constrained by temperature‐related differences between lowland and highland sites in montane environments. This may lead to higher rates of diversification through isolation of existing lineages toward the tropics. This mechanism, proposed by Janzen, could influence broad‐scale patterns of biodiversity across mountainous regions and more broadly across latitudinal gradients. We constructed two complementary analyses to test this hypothesis. First, we measured topographically‐derived thermal gradients using recently‐developed climatic data across the Americas, reviewing the main expectations from Janzen's climatic model. Then, we evaluated whether thermal barriers predict assemblage similarity for amphibians and mammals along elevational gradients across most of their latitudinal extent in the Americas. Thermal barriers between low and high elevation areas, initially proposed to be unique to tropical environments, are comparably strong in some temperate regions, particularly along the western slopes of North American dividing ranges. Biotic similarity for both mammals and amphibians decreases between sites that are separated by elevation‐related thermal barriers. That is, the stronger the thermal barrier separating pairs of sites across the latitudinal gradient, the lower the similarity of their species assemblages. Thermal barriers explain 10–35% of the variation in latitudinal gradients of biotic similarity, effects that were stronger in comparisons of sites at high elevations. Mammals' stronger dispersal capacities and homeothermy may explain weaker effects of thermal barriers on gradients of assemblage similarity than among amphibians. Understanding how temperature gradients have shaped gradients of montane biological diversity in the past will improve understanding of how changing environments may affect them in the future.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: April 1, 2017

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