PMID: 21800635Aug 2, 2011

The causes of species richness patterns across space, time, and clades and the role of "ecological limits"

The Quarterly Review of Biology
John J Wiens


A major goal of research in ecology and evolution is to explain why species richness varies across habitats, regions, and clades. Recent reviews have argued that species richness patterns among regions and clades may be explained by "ecological limits" on diversity over time, which are said to offer an alternative explanation to those invoking speciation and extinction (diversification) and time. Further, it has been proposed that this hypothesis is best supported by failure to find a positive relationship between time (e.g., clade age) and species richness. Here, I critically review the evidence for these claims, and propose how we might better study the ecological and evolutionary origins of species richness patterns. In fact, ecological limits can only influence species richness in clades by influencing speciation and extinction, and so this new "alternative paradigm" is simply one facet of the traditional idea that ecology influences diversification. The only direct evidence for strict ecological limits on richness (i.e., constant diversity over time) is from the fossil record, but many studies cited as supporting this pattern do not, and there is evidence for increasing richness over time. Negative evidence for a relations...Continue Reading


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