Predicting the structure of turtle assemblages along a megatransect in West Africa

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Understanding large- and small-scale patterns and the determinants of species richness is central for the study of evolutionary mechanisms. The extent to which species richness in local communities is related to larger-scale processes is a pre-eminent topic in ecological and evolutionary research. To investigate how local and regional species richness are related, we sampled freshwater turtle assemblages in seven localities to represent the variation in ecological conditions along a 90 km south–north megatransect in Benin, West Africa. In each locality, all turtles captured were identified and measured, and the microhabitat in which individual turtles were observed was classified. Based on these data, we used community diversity metrics to compare turtle assemblages. Spatial autocorrelation did not affect our data. For all localities pooled, two species (Pelusios castaneus and Pelomedusa olivacea) were the most common and one species (Trionyx triunguis) was the rarest. Analyses of the commonest and more numerous species showed that the abundance of Pelusios castaneus declined with an increase in latitude and longitude, but the opposite was true for Pelomedusa olivacea. We showed that various characteristics of the microhabitat were significantly correlated with the abundance of the two common species. We found significant but variable south–north gradients in microhabitat use for different turtle species. Our results highlight the importance of studying interactions between local environments, the ecological requirements of each species and their synecological relationships.

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