Research on global patterns of diversity has been dominated by studies seeking explanations for the equator-to-poles decline in richness of most groups of organisms, namely the latitudinal diversity gradient. A problem with this gradient is that it conflates two key explanations, namely biome stability (age and area) and productivity (ecological opportunity). Investigating longitudinal gradients in diversity can overcome this problem. Here we investigate a longitudinal gradient in plant diversity in the megadiverse Cape Floristic Region (CFR). We test predictions of the age and area and ecological opportunity hypotheses using metrics for both taxonomic and phylogenetic diversity and turnover. Our plant dataset includes modeled occurrences for 4,813 species and dated molecular phylogenies for 21 clades endemic to the CFR. Climate and biome stability were quantified over the past 140,000 y for testing the age and area hypothesis, and measures of topographic diversity, rainfall seasonality, and productivity were used to test the ecological opportunity hypothesis. Results from our spatial regression models showed biome stability, rainfall seasonality, and topographic heterogeneity were the strongest predictors of taxonomic diversity. Biome stability alone was the strongest predictor of all diversity metrics, and productivity played only a marginal role. We argue that age and area in conjunction with non–productivity-based measures of ecological opportunity explain the CFR’s longitudinal diversity gradient. We suggest that this model may possibly be a general explanation for global diversity patterns, unconstrained as it is by the collinearities underpinning the latitudinal diversity gradient.
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