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Trends Ecol Evol. 2014 Jan;29(1):42-50. doi: 10.1016/j.tree.2013.09.012. Epub 2013 Oct 17.

The latitudinal biodiversity gradient through deep time.

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  • 1Department of Earth Science and Engineering, Imperial College London, South Kensington Campus, London, SW7 2AZ, UK. Electronic address:
  • 2Department of Earth Sciences, University College London, Gower Street, London, WC1E 6BT, UK.
  • 3Department of Earth Sciences, University of Oxford, South Parks Road, Oxford, OX1 3AN, UK.
  • 4Department of Earth Sciences, University College London, Gower Street, London, WC1E 6BT, UK; Research Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment, University College London, Wolfson House, 4 Stephenson Way, London, NW1 2HE, UK.


Today, biodiversity decreases from equatorial to polar regions. This is a fundamental pattern governing the distribution of extant organisms, the understanding of which is critical to predicting climatically driven biodiversity loss. However, its causes remain unresolved. The fossil record offers a unique perspective on the evolution of this latitudinal biodiversity gradient (LBG), providing a dynamic system in which to explore spatiotemporal diversity fluctuations. Deep-time studies indicate that a tropical peak and poleward decline in species diversity has not been a persistent pattern throughout the Phanerozoic, but is restricted to intervals of the Palaeozoic and the past 30 million years. A tropical peak might characterise cold icehouse climatic regimes, whereas warmer greenhouse regimes display temperate diversity peaks or flattened gradients.

Copyright © 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.


biogeography; climate; dinosaurs; greenhouse; icehouse; phanerozoic; seasonality

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