Mammals on mountainsides revisited: Trait-based tests of assembly reveal the importance of abiotic filters

Brooks A. Kohli, Richard D. Stevens, Eric A. Rickart, Rebecca J. Rowe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Aim: Mountains provide uniquely informative systems for examining how biodiversity is distributed and identifying the causes of those patterns. Elevational patterns of species richness are well-documented for many taxa but comparatively few studies have investigated patterns in multiple dimensions of biodiversity along mountainsides, which can reveal the underlying processes at play. Here, we use trait-based diversity patterns to determine the role of abiotic filters and competition in the assembly of communities of small mammals across elevation and evaluate the surrogacy of taxonomic, functional, and phylogenetic dimensions of diversity. Location: Great Basin ecoregion, western North America. Taxon: Rodents and shrews. Methods: The elevational distributions of 34 species were determined from comprehensive field surveys conducted in three arid, temperate mountain ranges. Elevation–diversity relationships and community assembly processes were inferred from phylogenetic (PD) and functional diversity (FD) patterns of mean pairwise and mean nearest-neighbor distances while accounting for differences in species richness. FD indices were calculated separately for traits related to either abiotic filtering (β-niche traits) or biotic interactions (α-niche traits) to test explicit predictions of the role of each across elevation. Results: Trait-based tests of processes indicated that abiotic filtering tied to a strong aridity gradient drives the assembly of both low- and high-elevation communities. Support for competition was not consistent with theoretical expectations under the stress-dominance hypothesis, species interactions-abiotic stress hypothesis, or guild assembly rule. Mid-elevation peaks in species richness contrasted with overall FD and PD, which generally increased with elevation. PD and total FD were correlated on two of three mountains. Main conclusions: The functional diversity of small mammal communities in these arid, temperate mountains is most consistent with abiotic filters, whereas support for competition is weak. Decomposing FD into traits related to separate assembly processes and examining ecoregional variation in diversity were critical for uncovering the generality of mechanisms. Divergent patterns among dimensions revealed species richness to be a poor surrogate for PD and FD across elevation and reflect the effect of biogeographic and evolutionary history. This first analysis of elevational multidimensional diversity gradients for temperate mammals provides a versatile framework for future comparative studies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1606-1621
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Biogeography
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2021


  • Great Basin
  • aridity
  • community assembly
  • competition
  • elevational gradients
  • environmental filter
  • functional traits
  • phylogenetic diversity
  • richness
  • small mammals


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