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Disentangling vegetation and climate as drivers of Australian vertebrate richness

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Determining drivers of species richness is recognised as highly complex, involving many synergies and interactions. We examine the utility of newly available remote sensing representations of vegetation productivity and vegetation structure to examine drivers of species richness at continental and regional scales. We related richness estimates derived from stacked species distribution models for birds, mammals, amphibians, and reptiles to estimates of actual and potential evapotranspiration (AET and PET), forest structure, and forest productivity across Australia as a whole as well as by bioclimatic zones. We used structural equation modeling to partition correlations between climate energy and vegetation attributes and their subsequent associations with species richness. Continentally, vertebrate richness patterns were strongly related to patterns of energy availability. Richness of amphibians, mammals, and birds were positively associated with AET. However, reptile richness was most strongly associated with PET. Regionally, forest structure and productivity associations with bird, mammal, and amphibian richness were strongest. Again, reptile richness associated most strongly with PET. Our results suggest that a hierarchy of drivers of broad‐scale vertebrate richness patterns exist (reptiles excluded): 1) climate energy is most important at the continental scale; next, 2) vegetation productivity and vegetation structure are most important at the regional scale; except 3) at low extremes of climate energy when energy becomes limiting.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: July 1, 2018

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