Gymnosperm species richness patterns along the elevational gradient and its comparison with other plant taxonomic groups in the Himalayas


Phylogenetic constraints on ecophysiological adaptations and specific resource requirements are likely to explain why some taxonomic and functional groups exhibit different richness patterns along climatic gradients. We used interpolated species elevational distribution data and climatic data to describe gymnosperm species richness variation along elevational and climatic gradients in the Himalayas. We compared the climatic and elevational distributions of gymnosperms to those previously found for bryophytes, ferns, and angiosperm tree lineages to understand the respective drivers of species richness. Our study location was divided into three regions- Eastern; Central; and Western Himalayas. In each region, the sum of gymnosperm species richness was calculated over every 100-m elevational band. Using linear regression, we analyzed the relationship between species’ elevational mid-point and species’ elevational range size to test the Rapoport’s rule for gymnosperms in the Himalayas. Generalized linear models were used to test if potential evapotranspiration, growing degree days, and the number of rainy days could predict the observed patterns of gymnosperm species richness. We used the non-linear least squares method to examine if species richness optima differed among the four taxa. We found supporting evidence for the elevational Rapoport’s rule in the distribution of gymnosperms, and a unimodal pattern in gymnosperm species richness with elevation, with the highest species richness observed at ca. 3000 m. We also found a unimodal pattern of gymnosperm species richness along both the potential evapotranspiration and growing degree day gradients, while the relationship between species richness and the number of rainy days per year was non-significant. Gymnosperm species richness peaked at higher elevations than for any other plant functional group. Our results are consistent with the view that differences in response of contrasting plant taxonomic groups with elevation can be explained by differences in energy requirements and competitive interactions.

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Biogeography and Macroecology