Mountains are key features of the Earth’s surface and host a substantial proportion of the world’s species. However, the links between the evolution and distribution of biodiversity and the formation of mountains remain poorly understood. Here, we integrate multiple datasets to assess the relationships between species richness in mountains, geology and climate at global and regional scales. Specifically, we analyse how erosion, relief, soil and climate relate to the geographical distribution of terrestrial tetrapods, which include amphibians, birds and mammals. We find that centres of species richness correlate with areas of high temperatures, annual rainfall and topographic relief, supporting previous studies. We unveil additional links between mountain-building processes and biodiversity: species richness correlates with erosion rates and heterogeneity of soil types, with a varying response across continents. These additional links are prominent but under-explored, and probably relate to the interplay between surface uplift, climate change and atmospheric circulation through time. They are also influenced by the location and orientation of mountain ranges in relation to air circulation patterns, and how species diversification, dispersal and refugia respond to climate change. A better understanding of biosphere–lithosphere interactions is needed to understand the patterns and evolution of mountain biodiversity across space and time.

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Data availability

The datasets generated and analysed during the current study are available in the ZENODO repository https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.1341999.

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We thank A. Rohrmann, R. Moucha, V. Mosbrugger, F. Condamine, C. Bacon and J. Anderson for discussions and support. Funding for this work was provided by the Swedish Research Council (B0569601), the European Research Council under the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP/2007-2013, ERC Grant Agreement n. 331024), the Swedish Foundation for Strategic Research, the Biodiversity and Ecosystems in a Changing Climate (BECC) programme, the Faculty of Sciences at the University of Gothenburg, the Wenner-Gren Foundations, the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies at Harvard University, and a Wallenberg Academy Fellowship to A.A.; a German Science Foundation DFG grant Mu2845/6-1 and an A. Cox Fellowship (Stanford University) to A.M.; a University of Amsterdam starting grant to W.D.K.; the Universidad de Ibagué (Project 15-377-INT), the Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD) for the BEST Project, and the Universidad Pedagógica y Tecnológica de Colombia (UPTC) Project SGI-2417 to M.A.B.; a Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) grant (2012/13248/ALW) to S.G.A.F and H.H.; a German Science Foundation DFG grant (FR 3246/2-1) to S.A.F; German Science Foundation DFG grants MU 2934/2-1 and MU 2934/3-1 (PAK 807) to A.N.M.-R.; and the sFossil workshop at the Synthesis Centre for Biodiversity Sciences sDiv (DFG grant FZT 118).

Author information

Author notes

  1. These authors contributed equally: Alexandre Antonelli, W. Daniel Kissling, Suzette G. A. Flantua, Mauricio A. Bermúdez, Carina Hoorn.


  1. Gothenburg Global Biodiversity Centre, Göteborg, Sweden

    • Alexandre Antonelli
  2. Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences, University of Gothenburg, Göteborg, Sweden

    • Alexandre Antonelli
  3. Gothenburg Botanical Garden, Göteborg, Sweden

    • Alexandre Antonelli
  4. Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA

    • Alexandre Antonelli
  5. Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

    • W. Daniel Kissling
    • , Suzette G. A. Flantua
    • , Henry Hooghiemstra
    •  & Carina Hoorn
  6. Department of Biological Sciences, University of Bergen, Bergen, Norway

    • Suzette G. A. Flantua
  7. Facultad de Ciencias Naturales y Matemáticas, Universidad de Ibagué, Tolima, Colombia

    • Mauricio A. Bermúdez
  8. School of Geological Engineering, Sectional Faculty Sogamoso, Pedagogical and Technological University of Colombia, Sogamoso, Colombia

    • Mauricio A. Bermúdez
  9. Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre (BiK-F), Frankfurt/Main, Germany

    • Andreas Mulch
    •  & Susanne A. Fritz
  10. Institute of Geosciences, Goethe University Frankfurt, Frankfurt/Main, Germany

    • Andreas Mulch
  11. Department of Molecular Evolution and Plant Systematics & Herbarium (LZ), Institute of Biology, Leipzig University, Leipzig, Germany

    • Alexandra N. Muellner-Riehl
  12. German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig, Leipzig, Germany

    • Alexandra N. Muellner-Riehl
  13. Biodiversity, Macroecology & Biogeography, University of Göttingen, Göttingen, Germany

    • Holger Kreft
  14. Centre of Biodiversity and Sustainable Landuse, University of Göttingen, Göttingen, Germany

    • Holger Kreft
  15. Department of Systematic and Evolutionary Botany, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland

    • H. Peter Linder
  16. Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, USA

    • Catherine Badgley
  17. Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate, Natural History Museum of Denmark, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark

    • Jon Fjeldså
    •  & Carsten Rahbek
  18. Institute of Ecology, Evolution and Diversity, Goethe University Frankfurt, Frankfurt/Main, Germany

    • Susanne A. Fritz
  19. Department of Life Sciences, Imperial College London, Silwood Park campus, Ascot, UK

    • Carsten Rahbek
  20. Institute of Earth Surface Dynamics, University of Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland

    • Frédéric Herman


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C.H., A.A. and A.M. initiated the project; A.A., C.H., W.D.K. and S.G.A.F. coordinated the work and led the writing with contributions from M.A.B, A.M., A.N.M.-R., H.K., H.P.L., C.B., J.F., S.A.F., C.R., F.H. and H.H.; C.R. provided access to the bird data; S.G.A.F, M.A.B and S.A.F. compiled, cleaned and standardized all data; W.D.K. performed all analyses.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Alexandre Antonelli or W. Daniel Kissling or Carina Hoorn.

Supplementary information

  1. Supplementary Information

    Supplementary Discussion, Supplementary Tables 1–5, Supplementary Figures 1–11.

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