Direct and indirect effects of climate on richness drive the latitudinal diversity gradient in forest trees

Chengjin Chu (Corresponding Author), James A Lutz, Král Kamil, Tomas Vrska, Xue Yin, Jonathan A Myers, Iveren Abiem, Alfonso Alonso, Norm Bourg, David F R P Burslem, Min Cao, Hazel Chapman, Richard Condit, Suqin Fang, Gunter A Fischer, Lianming Gao, Zhanqing Hao, Billy C.H. Hau, Qing He, Andrew HectorStephen P Hubbell, Mingxi Jiang, Guangze Jin, David Kenfack, Jiangshan Lai, Buhang Li, Xiankun Li, Yu Liu, Yahuang Luo, Keping Ma, William McShea, Herve R. Memiaghe, Xiangcheng Mi, Ming Ni, Michael J O'Brien, Alexandre A de Oliveira, David A Orwig, Geoffrey G Parker, Xiujuan Qiao, Haibao Ren, Glen Reynolds, Weiguo Sang, Guochun Shen, Zhiyao Su, Xinghua Sui, I-Fang Sun, Songyan Tian, Bin Wang, Xihua Wang, Xugao Wang, Youshi Wang, George Weiblen, Shujun Wen, Nianxun Xi, Wusheng Xiang, Han Xu, Kun Xu, Wanhui Ye, Bingwei Zhang, Jiaxin Zhang, Xiaotong Zhang, Yingming Zhang, Kai Zhu Zhu, Jess Zimmerman, David Storch, Jennifer L Baltzer, Kristina J Anderson-Teixeira, Gary G. Mittelbach, Fangliang He

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78 Citations (Scopus)
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Climate is widely recognized as an important determinant of the latitudinal diversity gradient. However, most existing studies make no distinction between direct and indirect effects of climate, which substantially hinders our understanding of how climate constrains biodiversity globally. Using data from 35 large forest plots, we test hypothesized relationships among climate, topography, forest structural attributes (stem abundance, tree size variation and stand basal area) and tree species richness to better understand drivers of latitudinal tree diversity patterns. Climate influences tree richness both directly, with more species in warm, moist, aseasonal climates, and indirectly, with more species at higher stem abundance. These results imply direct limitation of species diversity by climatic stress and more rapid (co-)evolution and narrower niche partitioning in warm climates. They also support the idea that increased numbers of individuals associated with high primary productivity are partitioned to support a greater number of species.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)245-255
Number of pages11
JournalEcology Letters
Issue number2
Early online date12 Dec 2018
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2019

Bibliographical note

Data accessibility statement: Full census data are available upon reasonable request from the ForestGEO data portal,

We thank Margie Mayfield, three anonymous reviewers and Jacob Weiner for constructive comments on the manuscript. This study was financially supported by the National Key R&D Program of China (2017YFC0506100), the National Natural Science Foundation of China (31622014 and 31570426), and the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities (17lgzd24) to CC. XW was supported by the Strategic Priority Research Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (XDB3103). DS was supported by the Czech Science Foundation (grant no. 16-26369S). Yves Rosseel provided us valuable suggestions on using the lavaan package conducting SEM analyses. Funding and citation information for each forest plot is available in the Supplementary Information Text 1.


  • climate tolerance hypothesis
  • CTFS-ForestGEO
  • latitudinal diversity gradient
  • more-individuals hypothesis
  • species-energy relationship,
  • structural equation modeling
  • species-energy relationship
  • Climate tolerance hypothesis
  • structural equation modelling


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