Geometric constraints explain much of the species richness pattern in African birds

The world contains boundaries (e.g., continental edge for terrestrial taxa) that impose geometric constraints on the distribution of species ranges. Thus, contrary to traditional thinking, the expected species richness pattern in absence of ecological or physiographical factors is unlikely to be uniform. Species richness has been shown to peak in the middle of a bounded one-dimensional domain, even in the absence of ecological or physiographical factors. Because species ranges are not linear, an extension of the approach to two dimensions is necessary. Here we present a two-dimensional null model accounting for effects of geometric constraints. We use the model to examine the effects of continental edge on the distribution of terrestrial animals in Africa and compare the predictions with the observed pattern of species richness in birds endemic to the continent. Latitudinal, longitudinal, and two-dimensional patterns of species richness are predicted well from the modeled null effects alone. As expected, null effects are of high significance for wide ranging species only. Our results highlight the conceptual significance of an until recently neglected constraint from continental shape alone and support a more cautious analysis of species richness patterns at this scale.