Descriptive power of ecoregions varies across regions and taxa

Study finds evidence that ecoregions are more distinct for small-bodied, less vagile and tropical taxa

Data resources used via GBIF : 915,738,761 species occurrences
Bronchocela cristatella
Bronchocela cristatella Kuhl, 1820 observed in Singapore by budak (CC BY-NC 4.0)

Ecoregions are large areas of land or water containing geographically distinct assemblages of natural communities sharing species, ecological dynamics, and environmental conditions. Used in ecological research and conservation, ecoregions need to capture and describe communities well.

Integrating maps of ecoregions with data on environmental conditions, biodiversity and species traits, this study aimed to quantify the descriptive powers of ecoregions. Using GBIF-mediated occurrences of nearly all organisms, the authors modelled abiotic and biotic predictors of ecoregion distinctness.

In their results, they find evidence that ecoregion distinctness is best predicted by temperature and seasonality (presence of variations occurring at specific, regular intervals, i.e., seasons). With high average temperatures and rainfall combined with low seasonality, tropical ecoregions more strongly differentiate communities. Also, ecoregions are most distinct in regions with steeper slopes.

From a biotic perspective, ecoregion distinctiveness is more pronounced for reptiles and amphibians than mammals or birds and, in general, more pronounced for smaller-bodied species.

Overall, the study shows that ecoregions, while a powerful tool for conservation planning, do not necessarily describe communities uniformly across regions or taxa.

Smith JR, Hendershot JN, Nova N and Daily GC (2020) The biogeography of ecoregions: Descriptive power across regions and taxa. Journal of Biogeography. Wiley 47(7): 1413–1426. Available at: