Multi-scale interplays of biotic and abiotic drivers shape mammalian sub-continental diversity over millions of years

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The reconstruction of deep-time diversity trends is key to understanding current and future species richness. Studies that statistically evaluate potential factors affecting paleodiversity have focused on continental and global, clade-wide datasets, and thus we ignore how community species richness build-up to generate large-scale patterns over geological timescales. If community diversity is shaped by biotic interactions and continental and global diversities are governed by abiotic events, which are the modulators of diversity in subcontinental regions? To address this question, we model Iberian mammalian species richness over 13 million years (15 to 2 Ma) using exhaustive fossil evidence for subcontinental species’ ecomorphology, environmental context, and biogeographic affinities, and quantitatively evaluate their impact on species richness. We find that the diversity of large Iberian mammals has been limited over time, with species richness showing marked fluctuations, undergoing substantial depletions as diversity surpasses a critical limit where a significant part of the niches is unviable. The strength of such diversity-dependence has also shifted. Large faunal dispersals and environmental heterogeneity increased the system’s critical diversity limit. Diversity growth rate (net migration and diversification) also oscillated, mainly modulated by functional saturation, patchiness of canopy cover, and local temperature and aridity. Our study provides quantitative support for subcontinental species pools being complex and dynamic systems where diversity is perpetually imbalanced over geological timescales. Subcontinental diversity-dependence dynamics are mainly modulated by a multi-scale interplay of biotic and abiotic factors, with abiotic factors playing a more relevant role.
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