Spatial Gradients in Biodiversity

By studying spatial patterns of biodiversity we can identify some distinct spatial gradients in biodiversity. The most striking gradient is a global one; there is an increase in species richness as one moves from high latitudes at the poles to the lower latitudes of the tropics. A similar pattern is seen for higher taxonomic groups (genera, families). Various hypotheses have been raised to explain the greater species richness at the tropics (for example, environmental patchiness, solar energy, productivity) (Blackburn and Gaston, 1996). Most conservation activity is focused in the tropics, where there are more complex (and hence biologically richer) ecosystems, with more species to conserve. However, some of the species that are found near the poles are evolutionarily or ecologically unique and so are also especially deserving of conservation action.

Similarly, there is a biodiversity gradient with altitude. There are fewer species at higher elevations. This pattern is not as uniform for different taxa as the patterns of species across latitudinal species gradients. In oceans and freshwaters there are also fewer species as one moves to increasing depths below sea level.

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