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Factors influencing the distribution of scattered montane conifers on mountaintops in the Great Basin of North America were investigated. The sources of data were collections and observations on more than 300 mountain ranges in the region. All mountains in the region with at least one montane conifer species and all adjacent source areas were included in the data set. In all, 164 montane island sites and 40 mainland sites were used in the analyses. Physical data for each site were compiled and regression analyses were conducted to test the predictions of three island biogeography models: immigration, extinction, and equilibrium. These models were treated as alternatives to the Random Placement Hypothesis. The Random Placement Hypothesis was refuted. However, none of the island biogeography models explained the observed patterns because mainland species–area slopes were within the expected range of island slopes. The pattern that emerges is one in which both the "mainlands" and islands represent the remnants of a preexisting regional conifer flora. The vertical relief of a site’s montane zone is a better estimate of habitat diversity than area, and explains 65% of all variation in species richness on mountain ranges in the region. Although not all predictions of the island biogeography models were supported, it appears that both immigration and extinction of montane and subalpine conifers have occurred in the region during the Late Quaternary. Extinction was more important than immigration in shaping modern conifer distributions because area, not distance to sources, has a stronger influence on species richness.