Lizard richness in mainland China is more strongly correlated with energy and climatic stability than with diversification rates

Tao Liang*, Shai Meiri*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Aim: Contemporary environmental, historical and evolutionary factors are increasingly used to decipher the drivers of spatial patterns of species richness. Evidence of such correlations for Chinese reptiles is scarce and poorly understood. We therefore explored the validity of the environmental capacity, historical climatic stability and diversification rates hypotheses on Chinese lizard richness. Location: Mainland China. Taxon: Squamata: Sauria. Methods: We mapped the distribution ranges of all 237 lizards in mainland China using a combination of different datasets. We used current environmental conditions (ambient energy, environmental productivity, and habitat heterogeneity), historical climate stability indices (long term: since ~3.3 Ma and short term: since the last glacial maximum) and mean tip diversification rates, to test whether current environmental conditions, historical climate change and diversification rates drive contemporary richness patterns of lizards in China. We applied piecewise structural equation models (pSEM) to jointly evaluate our hypotheses, considering direct and indirect effects. Results: Chinese lizards showed strong latitudinal diversity gradients. We found consistent support for contemporary climatic and environmental factors relationships with richness. Richness was also positively correlated with short-term climatic stability, but less so with long-term stability. Diversification rates were seldom found to be positively correlated with lizard richness. Main Conclusions: Our results support the environmental capacity and historical climate hypotheses, which link high richness to highly productive warm and stable regions (and low richness to cold and unstable regions). We conclude that post-speciation dispersal and short-term climatic oscillations quickly swamp the long-term signal of diversification rates and climatic fluctuations, creating strong current climate–richness associations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)140-155
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Biogeography
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2024


  • Ambient energy
  • climate stability
  • diversification rates
  • latitudinal gradients
  • reptiles


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