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Geological and climatic influences on mountain biodiversity


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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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

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.

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

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Fig. 1: The world’s mountains and patterns of biodiversity.
Fig. 2: Global determinants of biodiversity across the world’s mountains.
Fig. 3: Regional determinants of mountain biodiversity.
Fig. 4: Linking the evolution of mountains and biodiversity.