Cryptic species diversity reveals biogeographic support for the ‘mountain passes are higher in the tropics’ hypothesis

B. A. Gill, B. C. Kondratieff, K. L. Casner, A. C. Encalada, A. S. Flecker, D. G. Gannon, C. K. Ghalambor, J. M. Guayasamin, N. L. Poff, M. P. Simmons, S. A. Thomas, K. R. Zamudio, W. C. Funk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

57 Scopus citations


The ‘mountain passes are higher in the tropics’ (MPHT) hypothesis posits that reduced climate variability at low latitudes should select for narrower thermal tolerances, lower dispersal and smaller elevational ranges compared with higher latitudes. These latitudinal differences could increase species richness at low latitudes, but that increase may be largely cryptic, because physiological and dispersal traits isolating populations might not correspond to morphological differences. Yet previous tests of the MPHT hypothesis have not addressed cryptic diversity. We use integrative taxonomy, combining morphology (6136 specimens) and DNA barcoding (1832 specimens) to compare the species richness, cryptic diversity and elevational ranges of mayflies (Ephemeroptera) in the Rocky Mountains (Colorado; approx. 408N) and the Andes (Ecuador; approx. 08). We find higher species richness and smaller elevational ranges in Ecuador than Colorado, but only after quantifying and accounting for cryptic diversity. The opposite pattern is found when comparing diversity based on morphology alone, underscoring the importance of uncovering cryptic species to understand global biodiversity patterns.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20160553
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1832
StatePublished - Jun 15 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Andes
  • Cryptic species
  • Elevational range
  • Ephemeroptera
  • Rocky mountains
  • Species richness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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