Questions: Is tree diversity higher in the southern hemisphere? Are latitudinal asymmetries in diversity sensitive to sampling effects?
Location: 198 forested locales worldwide.
Methods: I re-analysed the Gentry database, which I augmented with an additional survey from New Zealand. Data were used to test whether latitudinal declines in tree diversity differ between the northern and southern hemispheres. Data were also used to test whether hemispheric asymmetries in diversity are sensitive to sampling effects, or geographic variation in tree densities.
Results: Area-based measurements of species diversity are higher in the southern hemisphere. However, southern forests house denser plant populations. After controlling for geographic variation in tree densities, diversity patterns reverse, indicating tree diversity is higher in the northern hemisphere.
Conclusions: Latitudinal changes in tree diversity differ between hemispheres. However, the nature of hemispherical asymmetries in species diversity hinges on how diversity is defined, illustrating how different definitions of diversity can yield strikingly different solutions to common ecological problems.