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Bioclimatic and physical characterization of the world′s islands

Patrick Weigelt, Walter Jetz and Holger Kreft
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Vol. 110, No. 38 (September 17, 2013), pp. 15307-15312
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/42713318
Page Count: 6
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Abstract

The Earth's islands harbor a distinct, yet highly threatened, biological and cultural diversity that has been shaped by geographic isolation and unique environments. Island systems are key natural laboratories for testing theory in ecology and evolution. However, despite their potential usefulness for research, a quantitative description of island environments and an environmental classification are still lacking. Here, we prepare a standardized dataset and perform a comprehensive global environmental characterization for 17,883 of the world's marine islands >1 km² (~98% of total island area). We consider area, temperature, precipitation, seasonal ity in temperature and precipitation, past climate change velocity, elevation, isolation, and past connectivity—key island characteristics and drivers of ecosystem processes. We find that islands are significantly cooler, wetter, and less seasonal than mainlands. Constrained by their limited area, they show less elevational heterogeneity. Wet temperate climates are more prevalent on islands, whereas desert climates are comparatively rare. We use ordination and clustering to characterize islands in multidimensional environmental space and to delimit island ecoregions, which provides unique insights into the environmental configuration and diversity of the world's islands. Combining ordination and classification together with global environmental data in a common framework opens up avenues for a more integrative use of islands in biogeography, macroecology, and conservation. To showcase possible applications of the presented data, we predict vascular plant species richness for all 17,883 islands based on statistically derived environment–richness relationships.

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