Explaining the variable distribution and abundance of species such as latitudinal gradients has been the goal of biodiversity researchers since the patterns were first described by 19th century naturalists.
An important paper in the March edition of PLOS (Public Library of Science) Biology throws light on these complex global biodiversity patterns.
In the PLOS paper, Walter Jetz and Paul Fine look at biodiversity patterns among amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. Their analysis compares processes such as history, habitat area and productivity at different spatial and temporal scales, combining them in a single statistical framework. The model shows the relative importance of the various processes driving biodiversity, and the scales at which such processes become important.
Of course, the bottom line is how the data can be used to map the vulnerability of habitats onto species richness, helping scientists prioritize areas and species for conservation efforts.
Jetz W, Fine PVA (2012) Global Gradients in Vertebrate Diversity Predicted by Historical Area-Productivity Dynamics and Contemporary Environment. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1001292