The latitudinal biodiversity gradient (LBG)—the pattern of increasing taxonomic richness with decreasing latitude—is prevalent in the structure of the modern biota. However, some freshwater taxa show peak richness at mid-latitudes; for example, extant Testudines (turtles, terrapins and tortoises) exhibit their greatest diversity at 25° N, a pattern sometimes attributed to recent bursts of climatically mediated species diversification. Here, we test whether this pattern also characterizes the Mesozoic distribution of turtles, to determine whether it was established during either their initial diversification or as a more modern phenomenon. Using global occurrence data for non-marine testudinate genera, we find that subsampled richness peaks at palaeolatitudes of 15–30°N in the Jurassic, 30–45°N through the Cretaceous to the Campanian, and from 30° to 60°N in the Maastrichtian. The absence of a significant diversity peak in southern latitudes is consistent with results from climatic models and turtle niche modelling that demonstrate a dearth of suitable turtle habitat in Gondwana during the Jurassic and Late Cretaceous. Our analyses confirm that the modern testudinate LBG has a deep-time origin and further demonstrate that LBGs are not always expressed as a smooth, equator-to-pole distribution.
- Genus richness
- Geographical range
- Latitudinal biodiversity gradient