Explaining patterns of avian diversity and endemicity: Climate and biomes of southern Africa over the last 140,000 years

Brian Huntley*, Yvonne C. Collingham, Joy S. Singarayer, Paul J. Valdes, Phoebe Barnard, Guy F. Midgley, Res Altwegg, Ralf Ohlemüller

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

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Aim: Test hypotheses that present biodiversity and endemic species richness are related to climatic stability and/or biome persistence. Location: Africa south of 15° S. Methods: Seventy eight HadCM3 general circulation model palaeoclimate experiments spanning the last 140,000 years, plus a pre-industrial experiment, were used to calculate measures of climatic variability for 0.5° grid cells. Models were fitted relating distributions of the nine biomes of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland to present climate. These models were used to simulate potential past biome distribution and extent for the 78 palaeoclimate experiments, and three measures of biome persistence. Climatic response surfaces were fitted for 690 bird species regularly breeding in the region and used to simulate present species richness for cells of the 0.5° grid. Species richness was evaluated for residents, mobile species (nomadic or partially/altitudinally migrant within the region), and intra-African migrants, and also separately for endemic/near-endemic (hereafter 'endemic') species as a whole and those associated with each biome. Our hypotheses were tested by analysing correlations between species richness and climatic variability or biome persistence. Results: The magnitude of climatic variability showed clear spatial patterns. Marked changes in biome distributions and extents were projected, although limited areas of persistence were projected for some biomes. Overall species richness was not correlated with climatic variability, although richness of mobile species showed a weak negative correlation. Endemic species richness was significantly negatively correlated with climatic variability. Strongest correlations, however, were positive correlations between biome persistence and richness of endemics associated with individual biomes. Main conclusions: Low climatic variability, and especially a degree of stability enabling biome persistence, is strongly correlated with species richness of birds endemic to southern Africa. This probably principally reflects reduced extinction risk for these species where the biome to which they are adapted persisted.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)874-886
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Biogeography
Issue number5
Early online date9 Feb 2016
Publication statusPublished - May 2016


  • Atmosphere-ocean general circulation model
  • Biome persistence
  • Birds
  • Cape Floristic Region
  • Climatic stability
  • Heinrich Events
  • Last Glacial-Interglacial cycle
  • Species richness


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