Our study represents the first attempt to describe biogeographic provinces for North American (México, United States, and Canada) turtles. We analyzed three nested data sets separately: (1) all turtles, (2) freshwater turtles, and (3) aquatic turtles. We georeferenced North American turtle distributions, then we created presence–absence matrices for each of the three data sets. We used watershed unit as biogeographic units. We conducted an unweighted pair-group method with arithmetic mean clustering analysis on each Jaccard index distance matrix from our watershed species matrices to delineate biogeographic provinces. Provinces were then tested for significant differences in species compositions in a global model with the use of a one-way analysis of similarity. We conducted a best subset of environmental variables with maximum (rank) correlation with community dissimilarities that determined the best model of abiotic variables explaining province delineation (i.e., climate, topography, and stream channel). To identify which species contributed the most to province delineations, we conducted an indicator species analysis and a similarity-percentage analysis. There were 16 all-turtle provinces, 15 freshwater provinces, and 13 aquatic provinces. Species compositions delineating the provinces were explained by abiotic variables, including mean annual precipitation, mean precipitation seasonality, and diversity of streams. Province delineations correspond closely with geographical boundaries, many of which have Pleistocene origins. For example, rivers with a history of carrying glacial runoff (e.g., Arkansas, Mississippi) sometimes dissect upland provinces, especially for aquatic and semiaquatic turtles. Compared with freshwater fishes, turtles show greater sensitivity to decreased temperature with restriction of most taxa south of the last permafrost maximum. Turtles also exhibit higher sensitivity to climatic, geomorphic, and tectonic instability, with richness and endemism concentrated along the more stable Gulf of México and Atlantic (south of the last permafrost maximum) coasts. Although distribution data indicate two aquatic turtles are most cold tolerant (i.e., Chrysemys picta, Chelydra serpentina), aquatic turtles overall show the most restriction to warmer, wetter climates. Sequential addition of semiaquatic and terrestrial turtles into analyses shows, as expected, that these taxa flesh out turtle faunas in climatically harsh (e.g., grasslands) or remote (e.g., California, Sonoran Desert) regions. The turtle assemblages of southwestern versus southeastern North America are distinct. But there is a transition zone across the semiarid plains of the Texas Gulf Coast, High Plains, and Chihuahuan Desert, including a strong boundary congruent with the Cochise Filter-Barrier. This is not a simple subdivision of Neotropical versus Nearctic taxa, as some lineages from both realms span the transition zone.
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