Mapping landscape connectivity as a driver of species richness under tectonic and climatic forcing
Species distribution and richness ultimately result from complex interactions between biological, physical, and environmental factors. It has been recently shown for a static natural landscape that the elevational connectivity, which measures the proximity of a site to others with similar habitats, is a key physical driver of local species richness. Here we examine changes in elevational connectivity during mountain building using a landscape evolution model. We find that under uniform tectonic and variable climatic forcing, connectivity peaks at mid-elevations when the landscape reaches its geomorphic steady state and that the orographic effect on geomorphic evolution tends to favour lower connectivity on leeward-facing catchments. Statistical comparisons between connectivity distribution and results from a metacommunity model confirm that to the 1st order, landscape elevation connectivity explains species richness in simulated mountainous regions. Our results also predict that low-connectivity areas which favour isolation, a driver for in situ speciation, are distributed across the entire elevational range for simulated orogenic cycles. Adjustments of catchment morphology after the cessation of tectonic activity should reduce speciation by decreasing the number of isolated regions.