Understanding the variation patterns of mountain plant species diversity is becoming increasingly important in forest ecosystem management and protection. However, the research on plant species diversity has mainly focused on changes in whole plant species. Therefore, an in-depth study of the change mode of plant species via different classification methods and its impact on the overall change in plant diversity is very important for forestland restoration and biodiversity protection. In this study, the Qinling-Daba Mountains, a major feature of China's north–south transitional zone, were selected as the study area. Based on the floristic data of 58 nature reserves in the Qinling-Daba Mountains and its adjacent areas, the north–south change patterns of plant orders, families, genera and species diversity were first analyzed. Second, plant species were divided into different groups according to taxonomic group (orders, families and genera), life form (trees, shrubs and herbs) and endemism (species endemic and nonendemic to China). The change patterns of each group in the north–south direction were analyzed. Finally, the effects of different groups on the north–south change patterns of whole species are discussed. The species diversity of orders, genera and species exhibited a typical latitudinal gradient pattern, specifically, it gradually decreases from south to north, but the species diversity is relatively scattered. According to the north–south variation in species diversity in each order, families and genus, 5% of the orders, 2% of the families and 6% of the genera were positively correlated with latitude, and the rest were negatively correlated or uncorrelated. According to the north–south variation patterns of different life forms, the diversity of trees and shrubs showed a bimodal Gaussian distribution with latitude. According to the north–south variation patterns of plant endemism, the diversity of endemic species showed a Gaussian distribution with latitude, but the diversity of nonendemic species was negatively correlated with latitude. The dispersion of whole species diversity is caused by species in a few orders, families and genera, trees and shrubs, and endemic species. They may be more strongly affected by the vertical zonality of the mountains, which is inconsistent with the typical latitude gradient model. Our research will provide a basis for forestland management, nature reserve establishment and biodiversity conservation. • We examined a latitudinal gradient model of plant diversity in the Qinling-Daba Mountains. • The latitudinal gradient patterns of a few taxa are inconsistent with the typical patterns. • The relationships between tree and shrub diversity and latitude have Gaussian distributions. • Qinling-Daba Mountains is one of distribution areas of species endemic to China.

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