Genus age, provincial area and the taxonomic structure of marine faunas

Paul G. Harnik, David Jablonski, Andrew Z. Krug, James W. Valentine


Species are unevenly distributed among genera within clades and regions, with most genera species-poor and few species-rich. At regional scales, this structure to taxonomic diversity is generated via speciation, extinction and geographical range dynamics. Here, we use a global database of extant marine bivalves to characterize the taxonomic structure of climate zones and provinces. Our analyses reveal a general, Zipf–Mandelbrot form to the distribution of species among genera, with faunas from similar climate zones exhibiting similar taxonomic structure. Provinces that contain older taxa and/or encompass larger areas are expected to be more species-rich. Although both median genus age and provincial area correlate with measures of taxonomic structure, these relationships are interdependent, nonlinear and driven primarily by contrasts between tropical and extra-tropical faunas. Provincial area and taxonomic structure are largely decoupled within climate zones. Counter to the expectation that genus age and species richness should positively covary, diverse and highly structured provincial faunas are dominated by young genera. The marked differences between tropical and temperate faunas suggest strong spatial variation in evolutionary rates and invasion frequencies. Such variation contradicts biogeographic models that scale taxonomic diversity to geographical area.


  • Present address: Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences, Stanford University, 450 Serra Mall, Building 320, Stanford, CA 94305, USA.

  • Received March 23, 2010.
  • Accepted May 18, 2010.
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