A stochastic, evolutionary model for range shifts and richness on tropical elevational gradients under Quaternary glacial cycles

Quaternary glacial–interglacial cycles repeatedly forced thermal zones up and down the slopes of mountains, at all latitudes. Although no one doubts that these temperature cycles have left their signature on contemporary patterns of geography and phylogeny, the relative roles of ecology and evolution are not well understood, especially for the tropics. To explore key mechanisms and their interactions in the context of chance events, we constructed a geographical range-based, stochastic simulation model that incorporates speciation, anagenetic evolution, niche conservatism, range shifts and extinctions under late Quaternary temperature cycles along tropical elevational gradients. In the model, elevational patterns of species richness arise from the differential survival of founder lineages, consolidated by speciation and the inheritance of thermal niche characteristics. The model yields a surprisingly rich variety of realistic patterns of phylogeny and biogeography, including close matches to a variety of contemporary elevational richness profiles from an elevational transect in Costa Rica. Mountaintop extinctions during interglacials and lowland extinctions at glacial maxima favour mid-elevation lineages, especially under the constraints of niche conservatism. Asymmetry in temperature (greater duration of glacial than of interglacial episodes) and in lateral area (greater land area at low than at high elevations) have opposing effects on lowland extinctions and the elevational pattern of species richness in the model—and perhaps in nature, as well.