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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2020 Jan 21;117(3):1559-1565. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1910489116. Epub 2019 Dec 16.

Geographically divergent evolutionary and ecological legacies shape mammal biodiversity in the global tropics and subtropics.

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Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Amherst, MA 01003;
Department of Anthropology, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Amherst, MA 01003.
Department of Biosciences, Rice University, Houston, TX 77005.
Program in Ecology and Evolution, Rice University, Houston, TX 77005.
Department of Botany and Plant Sciences, University of California Riverside, CA 92521.
Institute of Human Origins, School of Human Evolution and Social Change, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85282.
Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Amherst, MA 01003.


Studies of the factors governing global patterns of biodiversity are key to predicting community responses to ongoing and future abiotic and biotic changes. Although most research has focused on present-day climate, a growing body of evidence indicates that modern ecological communities may be significantly shaped by paleoclimatic change and past anthropogenic factors. However, the generality of this pattern is unknown, as global analyses are lacking. Here we quantify the phylogenetic and functional trait structure of 515 tropical and subtropical large mammal communities and predict their structure from past and present climatic and anthropogenic factors. We find that the effects of Quaternary paleoclimatic change are strongest in the Afrotropics, with communities in the Indomalayan realm showing mixed effects of modern climate and paleoclimate. Malagasy communities are poorly predicted by any single factor, likely due to the atypical history of the island compared with continental regions. Neotropical communities are mainly codetermined by modern climate and prehistoric and historical human impacts. Overall, our results indicate that the factors governing tropical and subtropical mammalian biodiversity are complex, with the importance of past and present factors varying based on the divergent histories of the world's biogeographic realms and their native biotas. Consideration of the evolutionary and ecological legacies of both the recent and ancient past are key to understanding the forces shaping global patterns of present-day biodiversity and its response to ongoing and future abiotic and biotic changes in the 21st century.


biogeography; functional ecology; human impacts; paleoclimate legacies; phylogenetic diversity


Conflict of interest statement

The authors declare no competing interest.

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