Understanding the factors that govern geographic patterns of species richness is a
central issue in ecology and evolutionary biology that has major consequences for
the theory and practice of conservation biology. Being able to predict richness
patterns by correlating them with environmental or historical factors would greatly
enhance efforts for conserving hotspots, or areas of high species richness. Our
study used over ca. 366,000 plant specimen records from the Missouri Botanical
Garden’s TROPICOS database to test the correlation of climate, habitat, and
topographic factors with patterns of species richness in the Tropical Andes.
Regression analyses allowed us to determine which factors (energy and water
availability, spatial heterogeneity, regional and historical effects) best explain
variation in species richness across the western Neotropics. Results from these
analyses allowed us to predict plant richness in areas with poorly sampled floras.
Species richness for 100 km x 100 km areas that
contain at least 500 plant collections. Richness ranges
from low (blue) to high (red). Notice the abundance
of red cells along the Tropical Andes.
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