The mid-domain effect matters: simulation analyses of range-size distribution data from Mount Kinabalu, Borneo

Aim In simulation exercises, mid-domain peaks in species richness arise as a result of the random placement of modelled species ranges within simulated geometric constraints. This has been called the mid-domain effect (MDE). Where close correspondence is found between such simulations and empirical data, it is not possible to reject the hypothesis that empirical species richness patterns result from the MDE rather than being the outcome (wholly or largely) of other factors. To separate the influence of the MDE from other factors we therefore need to evaluate variables other than species richness. The distribution of range sizes gives different predictions between models including the MDE or not. Here, we produce predictions for species richness and distribution of range sizes from one model without the MDE and from two MDE models: a classical MDE model encompassing only species with their entire range within the domain (rangerestricted MDE), and a model encompassing all species with the theoretical midpoint within the domain (midpoint-restricted MDE). These predictions are compared with observations from the elevational pattern of range-size distributions and species richness of vascular plants. Location Mount Kinabalu, Borneo. Methods The data set analysed comprises more than 28,000 plant specimens with information on elevation. Species ranges are simulated with various assumptions for the three models, and the species simulated are subsequently subjected to a sampling that simulates the actual collection of species on Mount Kinabalu. The resulting pattern of species richness and species range-size distributions are compared with the observed pattern. Results The comparison of simulated and observed patterns indicates that an underlying monotonically decreasing trend in species richness with elevation is essential to explain fully the observed pattern of richness and range size. When the underlying trend is accounted for, the MDE model that restricts the distributions of theoretical midpoints performs better than both the classical MDE model and the model that does not incorporate geometric constraints. Main conclusions Of the three models evaluated here, the midpoint-restricted MDE model is found to be the best for explaining species richness and species range-size distributions on Mount Kinabalu.