A crucial step in understanding the origin and maintenance of biological diversity is the assessment of its distribution over space and time and across environmental gradients. At the regional scale, two important attributes of species can be assessed that provide insight into speciation processes: species geographical and environmental ranges. The endemic tree flora of the Western Ghats is an interesting case for analyzing broad-scale biodiversity patterns because of the steep environmental gradients that characterize this tropical region of India. We analysed species geographical and environmental ranges by Canonical Correlation Analysis of point data from herbarium collections. We performed partial analyses to discriminate spatial and environmental correlates of species distribution, and evaluate the contribution of higher taxonomic ranks to these ranges. We identified different levels of organization in the distribution of endemism: 1) general features, such as the concentration of endemic species in the southern part of the Western Ghats, and the decrease in endemic species richness along the altitudinal and the dry season length gradients, and 2) patterns specific to genera or families, such as species niche separation along the environmental gradients. Our analyses enabled us to formulate hypotheses about the diversification of the endemic tree flora of the Western Ghats. They also confirm the value of Canonical Correlation Analysis as the suitable method for collection data analysis.
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