Patterns of Beta Diversity of Vascular Plants and Their Correspondence With Biome Boundaries Across North America

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Understanding why species composition and diversity varies spatially and with environmental variation is a long-standing theme in macroecological research. Numerous hypotheses have been generated to explain species and phylogenetic diversity gradients. Much less attention has been invested in explaining patterns of beta diversity. Biomes boundaries are thought to represent major shifts in abiotic variables accompanied by vegetation patterns and composition as a consequence of long-term interactions between the environment and the diversification and sorting of species. Using North American plant distribution data, phylogenetic information and three functional traits (SLA, seed mass, and plant height), we explicitly tested whether beta diversity is associated with biome boundaries and the extent to which two components of beta diversity—turnover and nestedness—for three dimensions of biodiversity (taxonomic, phylogenetic, and functional)—are associated with contrasting environments and linked to different patterns of historical climatic stability. We found that dimensions of vascular plant beta diversity are strongly coupled and vary considerably across North America, with turnover more influential in biomes with higher species richness and greater environmental stability and nestedness more influential in species-poor biomes characterized by high environmental variability. These results can be interpreted to indicate that in harsher climates with less stability explain beta diversity, while in warmer, wetter more stable climates, patterns of endemism associated with speciation processes, as well as local environmental sorting processes, contribute to beta diversity. Similar to prior studies, we conclude that patterns of similarity among communities and biomes reflects biogeographic legacies of how vascular plant diversity arose and was shaped by historical and ecological processes.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number194
JournalFrontiers in Ecology and Evolution
StatePublished - Nov 27 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 Pinto-Ledezma, Larkin and Cavender-Bares.


  • Beta diversity
  • Biomes
  • Functional traits
  • Nestedness
  • Niche conservatism
  • Turnover
  • Vascular plants


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