Density-dependent mortality and the latitudinal gradient in species diversity.
Ecologists have long postulated that density-dependent mortality maintains high tree diversity in the tropics. If species experience greater mortality when abundant, then more rare species can persist. Agents of density-dependent mortality (such as host-specific predators, and pathogens) may be more prevalent or have stronger effects in tropical forests, because they are not limited by climatic factors. If so, decreasing density-dependent mortality with increasing latitude could partially explain the observed latitudinal gradient in tree diversity. This hypothesis has never been tested with latitudinal data. Here we show that several temperate tree species experience density-dependent mortality between seed dispersal and seedling establishment. The proportion of species affected is equivalent to that in tropical forests, failing to support the hypothesis that this mechanism is more prevalent at tropical latitudes. We further show that density-dependent mortality is misinterpreted in previous studies. Our results and evidence from other studies suggest that density-dependent mortality is important in many forests. Thus, unless the strength of density-dependent mortality varies with latitude, this mechanism is not likely to explain the high diversity of tropical forests.
Lambers, JHR; Clark, JS; Beckage, B
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