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Ecol Lett. 2009 Aug;12(8):735-43. doi: 10.1111/j.1461-0248.2009.01333.x. Epub 2009 Jun 22.

Ecological limits and diversification rate: alternative paradigms to explain the variation in species richness among clades and regions.

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Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA.


Diversification rate is one of the most important metrics in macroecological and macroevolutionary studies. Here I demonstrate that diversification analyses can be misleading when researchers assume that diversity increases unbounded through time, as is typical in molecular phylogenetic studies. If clade diversity is regulated by ecological factors, then species richness may be independent of clade age and it may not be possible to infer the rate at which diversity arose. This has substantial consequences for the interpretation of many studies that have contrasted rates of diversification among clades and regions. Often, it is possible to estimate the total diversification experienced by a clade but not diversification rate itself. I show that the evidence for ecological limits on diversity in higher taxa is widespread. Finally, I explore the implications of ecological limits for a variety of ecological and evolutionary questions that involve inferences about speciation and extinction rates from phylogenetic data.

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