The numerous explanations for why Earth's biodiversity is concentrated at low latitudes fail to explain variation in the strength and even direction of the gradient through deep time. Consequently, we do not know if today's gradient is representative of what might be expected on other planets or is merely an idiosyncrasy of Earth's history. We propose a hierarchy of factors driving the latitudinal distribution of diversity: (i) over geologically long time spans, diversity is largely predicted by climate; (ii) when climatic gradients are shallow, diversity tracks habitat area; and (iii) historical contingencies linked to niche conservatism have geologically short-term, transient influence at most. Thus, latitudinal diversity gradients, although variable in strength and direction, are largely predictable on our planet and possibly others.
- ecological carrying capacity
- niche conservatism