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Am Nat. 2007 Oct;170(4):602-16. Epub 2007 Aug 9.

Species richness and evolutionary niche dynamics: a spatial pattern-oriented simulation experiment.

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Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Connecticut, Storrs, Connecticut 06269, USA.


Evolutionary processes underlying spatial patterns in species richness remain largely unexplored, and correlative studies lack the theoretical basis to explain these patterns in evolutionary terms. In this study, we develop a spatially explicit simulation model to evaluate, under a pattern-oriented modeling approach, whether evolutionary niche dynamics (the balance between niche conservatism and niche evolution processes) can provide a parsimonious explanation for patterns in species richness. We model the size, shape, and location of species' geographical ranges in a multivariate heterogeneous environmental landscape by simulating an evolutionary process in which environmental fluctuations create geographic range fragmentation, which, in turn, regulates speciation and extinction. We applied the model to the South American domain, adjusting parameters to maximize the correspondence between observed and predicted patterns in richness of about 3,000 bird species. Predicted spatial patterns, which closely resemble observed ones (r2=0.795), proved sensitive to niche dynamics processes. Our simulations allow evaluation of the roles of both evolutionary and ecological processes in explaining spatial patterns in species richness, revealing the enormous potential of the link between ecology and historical biogeography under integrated theoretical and methodological frameworks.

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