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Disentangling vegetation diversity from climate-energy and habitat heterogeneity for explaining animal geographic patterns.

  • Author(s): Jiménez-Alfaro, Borja;
  • Chytrý, Milan;
  • Mucina, Ladislav;
  • Grace, James;
  • Rejmánek, Marcel
  • et al.

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Broad-scale animal diversity patterns have been traditionally explained by hypotheses focused on climate-energy and habitat heterogeneity, without considering the direct influence of vegetation structure and composition. However, integrating these factors when considering plant-animal correlates still poses a major challenge because plant communities are controlled by abiotic factors that may, at the same time, influence animal distributions. By testing whether the number and variation of plant community types in Europe explain country-level diversity in six animal groups, we propose a conceptual framework in which vegetation diversity represents a bridge between abiotic factors and animal diversity. We show that vegetation diversity explains variation in animal richness not accounted for by altitudinal range or potential evapotranspiration, being the best predictor for butterflies, beetles, and amphibians. Moreover, the dissimilarity of plant community types explains the highest proportion of variation in animal assemblages across the studied regions, an effect that outperforms the effect of climate and their shared contribution with pure spatial variation. Our results at the country level suggest that vegetation diversity, as estimated from broad-scale classifications of plant communities, may contribute to our understanding of animal richness and may be disentangled, at least to a degree, from climate-energy and abiotic habitat heterogeneity.

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