Effects of neutrality and productivity on mammal richness and evolutionary history in Australia

4 July 2018

Coelho, Marco Túlio; Dambros, Cristian; Rosauer, Dan; Pereira, Elisa; Rangel, Thiago F.

Explaining how heterogeneous spatial patterns of species diversity emerge is one of the most fascinating questions of biogeography. One of the great challenges is revealing the mechanistic effect of environmental variables on diversity. Correlative analyses indicate that productivity is associated with taxonomic, phylogenetic, and functional diversity of communities. Surprisingly, no unifying body of theory have been developed to understand the mechanism by which spatial variation of productivity affects the fundamental processes of biodiversity. Based on widely discussed verbal models in ecology about the effect of productivity on species diversity, we developed a spatially explicit neutral model that incorporates the effect of primary productivity on community size and confronted our model’s predictions with observed patterns of species richness and evolutionary history of Australian terrestrial mammals. The imposed restrictions on community size create larger populations in areas of high productivity, which increases community turnover and local speciation, and reduces extinction. The effect of productivity on community size modeled in our study causes higher accumulation of species diversity in productive regions even in the absence of niche-based processes. However, such a simple model is not capable of reproducing spatial patterns of mammal evolutionary history in Australia, implying that more complex evolutionary mechanisms are involved. Our study demonstrates that the overall patterns of species richness can be directly explained by changes in community sizes along productivity gradients, supporting a major role of processes associated with energetic constraints in shaping diversity patterns.