On the generality of the latitudinal diversity gradient

Am Nat. 2004 Feb;163(2):192-211. doi: 10.1086/381004. Epub 2004 Jan 15.


The decline of biodiversity with latitude has received great attention, but both the concise pattern and the causes of the gradient are under strong debate. Most studies of the latitudinal gradient comprise only one or few organism types and are often restricted to certain region or habitat types. To test for significant variation in the gradient between organisms, habitats, or regions, a meta-analysis was conducted on nearly 600 latitudinal gradients assembled from the literature. Each gradient was characterized by two effect sizes, strength (correlation coefficient) and slope, and additionally by 14 variables describing organisms, habitats, and regions. The analysis corroborated the high generality of the latitudinal diversity decline. Gradients on regional scales were significantly stronger and steeper than on local scales, and slopes also varied with sampling grain. Both strength and slope increased with organism body mass, and strength increased with trophic level. The body mass-effect size relation varied for ecto- versus homeotherm organisms and for different dispersal types, suggesting allometric effects on energy use and dispersal ability as possible mechanisms for the body mass effect. Latitudinal gradients were weaker and less steep in freshwater than in marine or terrestrial environments and differed significantly between continents and habitat types. The gradient parameters were not affected by hemisphere or the latitudinal range covered. This analysis is the first to describe these general and significant patterns, which have important consequences for models aiming to explain the latitudinal gradient.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biodiversity*
  • Body Constitution
  • Environment*
  • Geography
  • Regression Analysis