Species richness patterns and water-energy dynamics in the drylands of Northwest China

Dryland ecosystems are highly vulnerable to climatic and land-use changes, while the mechanisms underlying patterns of dryland species richness are still elusive. With distributions of 3637 native vascular plants, 154 mammals, and 425 birds in Xinjiang, China, we tested the water-energy dynamics hypothesis for species richness patterns in Central Asian drylands. Our results supported the water-energy dynamics hypothesis. We found that species richness of all three groups was a hump-shaped function of energy availability, but a linear function of water availability. We further found that water availability had stronger effects on plant richness, but weaker effects on vertebrate richness than energy availability. We conducted piecewise linear regressions to detect the breakpoints in the relationship between species richness and potential evapotranspiration which divided Xinjiang into low and high energy regions. The concordance between mammal and plant richness was stronger in high than in low energy regions, which was opposite to that between birds and plants. Plant richness had stronger effects than climate on mammal richness regardless of energy levels, but on bird richness only in high energy regions. The changes in the concordance between vertebrate and plant richness along the climatic gradient suggest that cautions are needed when using concordance between taxa in conservation planning.