The macroecology of botanical diversity: History, new insights and the central informatics barriers
For many questions in comparative biology and biodiversity science it is increasingly necessary to integrate heterogeneous sources of biological information across enormous geographic, temporal, and taxonomic scales. The informatics revolution, has transformed many parts of science. While many fields have embraced Big Data, ecology has historically lagged. Nonetheless, the culture of data sharing and use in ecology and the arrival of new data infrastructure is quickly transforming ecology. Further, the nature of how ecology is conducting science will continue to embrace large heterogeneous data sources. The problem has been that the nature of biodiversity data presents several unique hurdles that limit the advance of biodiversity science. To overcome these limitations we present a general workflow to standardize and integrate the world’s ecological and collection databases. Focusing on plants in the Americas, we use this workflow to generate for the first time: (i) species range maps for ~100,000 species; (ii) a standardized species list and multi-gene phylogeny for all New World species; (iii) continental-scale taxonomic, phylogenetic, diversity, and trait maps.
These products allow us to quantify botanical diversity at continental scales and assess several differing hypotheses for the origin and maintenance of diversity gradients. We show that broad-scale diversity patterns are characterized by an inverse relationship between phylogenetic diversity and taxonomic diversity and to visualize how continuous variation in a key functional trait shifts across continental scales. Together, our results provide a basis to assess long-standing hypotheses for the origin of diversity gradients and the drivers of functional trait composition and diversity. Further, the importance of an integrated data pool from heterogenious data sources allow us to assess and improve our knowledge of the diversity and distribution of plant species.