Is Rapoport's rule a recent phenomenon? A deep time perspective on potential causal mechanisms

Nikolai M. Veter, Larisa R.G. DeSantis, Lindsey T. Yann, Shelly L. Donohue, Ryan J. Haupt, Sarah E. Corapi, Siobhan L. Fathel, Emily K. Gootee, Lucas F. Loffredo, Jennifer L. Romer, Stoycho M. Velkovsky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Macroecology strives to identify ecological patterns on broad spatial and temporal scales. One such pattern, Rapoport's rule, describes the tendency of species' latitudinal ranges to increase with increasing latitude. Several mechanisms have been proposed to explain this rule. Some invoke climate, either through glaciation driving differential extinction of northern species or through increased seasonal variability at higher latitudes causing higher thermal tolerances and subsequently larger ranges. Alternatively, continental tapering or higher interspecific competition at lower latitudes may be responsible. Assessing the incidence of Rapoport's rule through deep time can help to distinguish between competing explanations. Using fossil occurrence data from the Palaeobiology Database, we test these hypotheses by evaluating mammalian compliance with the rule throughout the Caenozoic of North America. Adherence to Rapoport's rule primarily coincides with periods of intense cooling and increased seasonality, suggesting that extinctions caused by changing climate may have played an important role in erecting the latitudinal gradients in range sizes seen today.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20130398
JournalBiology Letters
Issue number5
StatePublished - 23 Sep 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Caenozoic
  • Geographical range
  • Latitude
  • Macroecology
  • Mammals
  • Rapoport's rule


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