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Universal species–area and endemics–area relationships at continental scales



Despite the broad conceptual and applied relevance of how the number of species or endemics changes with area (the species–area and endemics–area relationships (SAR and EAR)), our understanding of universality and pervasiveness of these patterns across taxa and regions has remained limited. The SAR has traditionally been approximated by a power law1, but recent theories predict a triphasic SAR in logarithmic space, characterized by steeper increases in species richness at both small and large spatial scales2,3,4,5,6. Here we uncover such universally upward accelerating SARs for amphibians, birds and mammals across the world’s major landmasses. Although apparently taxon-specific and continent-specific, all curves collapse into one universal function after the area is rescaled by using the mean range sizes of taxa within continents. In addition, all EARs approximately follow a power law with a slope close to 1, indicating that for most spatial scales there is roughly proportional species extinction with area loss. These patterns can be predicted by a simulation model based on the random placement of contiguous ranges within a domain. The universality of SARs and EARs after rescaling implies that both total and endemic species richness within an area, and also their rate of change with area, can be estimated by using only the knowledge of mean geographic range size in the region and mean species richness at one spatial scale.

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Figure 1: SARs and EARs across five continents and three vertebrate classes.
Figure 2: SARs and EARs after rescaling.
Figure 3: Rescaled SARs and EARs predicted by four simulation models of range placement.


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We thank J. Belmaker, K. Mertes-Schwartz, C. Sheard and D. Rosauer for useful comments. The study was supported by the Grant Agency of the Czech Republic (P505/11/2387), the Czech Ministry of Education (MSM0021620845) and the EU FP7 SCALES project (‘Securing the Conservation of biodiversity across Administrative Levels and spatial, temporal and Ecological Scales’; project No. 26852). W.J. acknowledges support from National Science Foundation grants DBI 0960550 and DEB 1026764, and NASA Biodiversity Program grant number NNX11AP72G.

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D.S. initiated the research. D.S., P.K. and W.J. developed the ideas, methods and concepts, and wrote the manuscript. W.J. adjusted and provided the data. P.K. performed the analyses and simulations.

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Correspondence to David Storch.

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Storch, D., Keil, P. & Jetz, W. Universal species–area and endemics–area relationships at continental scales. Nature 488, 78–81 (2012).

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