Most knowledge on biodiversity derives from the study of charismatic macro-organisms, such as birds and trees. However, the diversity of micro-organisms constitutes the majority of all life forms on Earth. Here, we ask if the patterns of richness inferred for macro-organisms are similar for micro-organisms. For this, we barcoded samples of soil, litter and insects from four localities on a west-to-east transect across Amazonia. We quantified richness as Operational Taxonomic Units (OTUs) in those samples using three molecular markers. We then compared OTU richness with species richness of two relatively well-studied organism groups in Amazonia: trees and birds. We find that OTU richness shows a declining west-to-east diversity gradient that is in agreement with the species richness patterns documented here and previously for birds and trees. These results suggest that most taxonomic groups respond to the same overall diversity gradients at large spatial scales. However, our results show a different pattern of richness in relation to habitat types, suggesting that the idiosyncrasies of each taxonomic group and peculiarities of the local environment frequently override large-scale diversity gradients. Our findings caution against using the diversity distribution of one taxonomic group as an indication of patterns of richness across all groups.
The pitfalls of biodiversity proxies: Differences in richness patterns of birds, trees and understudied diversity across Amazonia
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