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Hemispheric asymmetries in biodiversity: a serious matter for ecology

By S.L. Chown, B.J. Sinclair, H.P. Leinaas and K.J. Gaston


[FIRST PARAGRAPH] Penguins have been receiving a lot of bad press lately. They are considered somehow counter, spare, strange. Unlike most plant and animal groups, they do not show a peak of species richness towards the equator and a decline towards the poles. This more conventional spatial pattern is conveniently known as the latitudinal diversity gradient because of the strong covariance of richness and other measures of biodiversity that it describes. It is one of the most venerable, well-documented, and controversial large-scale patterns in macroecology (Willig et al. 2003). Equatorial peaks in species richness have characterised the planet since the Devonian (408–362 million years ago) (Crame 2001) and are typical of a wide range of both terrestrial and marine plants and animals (Gaston 1996; Willig et al. 2003). Despite the fact that this pattern has been documented since the late 1700s, sustained interest in both the regularity of the pattern and its likely underlying mechanisms is relatively modern. The realisation that human activity is posing substantial threats to biodiversity has quickened the pace of this interest (Willig et al. 2003). Where the peaks in richness lie (biodiversity hotspots), how these peaks relate to centres of endemism (areas that support large numbers of species that occur nowhere else), and how these patterns are likely to change through time, especially in the face of major environmental change, are major concerns. Without such knowledge, conservation is unlikely to succeed.\ud \u

Year: 2004
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