Global biogeography of traits and extinction risk: an elevational perspective

Project Details


Mountains are hotspots of terrestrial biodiversity, but the reasons why are poorly understood, including the relative importance of variation in speciation and extinction rates. Extensive reviews of the literature, across taxa, reveal that research on trait and extinction risk variation with respect to elevational distribution and mountain systems are outnumbered by studies on latitudinal gradients, geographical range size and island systems, and are taxonomically and geographically restricted.

Furthermore, despite the importance of mountain ranges for global biodiversity conservation, we know little about the type, distribution and impact of the threats they face, which is essential for the effective prioritisation and implementation of conservation effort. The world is topographically complex, yet current models used to determine extinction risk essentially assume species live in two dimensions, which is too simplistic, especially for taxa with high dispersal capabilities. Understanding how and why life-history strategies vary spatially at the global scale is central to many fundamental questions in biogeography, ecology and conservation biology.

Continuing work started as Dr Rachel White’s PhD research, this project aimed to improve understanding of interspecific variation in morphology, life history, ecology, and extinction risk with respect to elevational distribution - at the global scale and across a broad taxonomic range.

In order to achieve this, birds were used as a model system, a global avian trait database and a (phylogenetic) comparative approach.

The following broad research questions were explored:

>At the global scale, how and why do avian morphological, life-history and ecological traits vary with species-typical elevational distribution?
>At the global scale, how and why does avian extinction risk vary with species-typical elevational distribution?
>Are global relationships identified at the species level consistent at the following spatial and phylogenetic scales:
>within biogeographic realms,
>across higher taxonomic levels,
>for endemic and restricted-range species, and
>when controlling for phylogenetic non-independence
>How does avian elevational distribution vary with respect to latitude, geographical range and elevation?
>How do elevational patterns in avian traits and extinction risk differ to those found with respect to both latitude and geographical range?

Key findings

White, R.L. & Bennett, P.M. (2015) Global elevational distribution and extinction risk in birds. PLOS ONE, 10(4), e0121849.

White, R.L. (2013) Global biogeography of traits and extinction risk in birds: an elevational perspective. PhD thesis, University of Kent.
Effective start/end date1/01/1231/12/14


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