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Evolutionary persistence in Gunnera and the contribution of southern plant groups to the tropical Andes biodiversity hotspot

Journal article
Authors Christine D. Bacon
F. J. Velásquez-Puentes
L. F. Hinojosa
Thomas Schwartz
Bengt Oxelman
Bernard E. Pfeil
M. T. K. Arroyo
L. Wanntorp
Alexandre Antonelli
Published in PeerJ
Volume 2018
Issue 3
ISSN 2167-8359
Publication year 2018
Published at Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences
Language en
Keywords Biogeography, Climate change, Diversification, Gondwana, Neotropics, Species longevity, article, biodiversity, biota, fossil, genus, habitat, human, longevity, nonhuman, soil, Southern Hemisphere
Subject categories Physical Geography, Biological Sciences, Climate Research


Several studies have demonstrated the contribution of northern immigrants to the flora of the tropical Andesthe world's richest and most diverse biodiversity hotspot. However, much less is known about the biogeographic history and diversification of Andean groups with southern origins, although it has been suggested that northern and southern groups have contributed roughly equally to the high Andean (i.e., páramo) flora. Here we infer the evolutionary history of the southern hemisphere plant genus Gunnera, a lineage with a rich fossil history and an important ecological role as an early colonising species characteristic of wet, montane environments. Our results show striking contrasts in species diversification, where some species may have persisted for some 90 million years, and whereas others date to less than 2 Ma since origination. The outstanding longevity of the group is likely linked to a high degree of niche conservatism across its highly disjunct range, whereby Gunnera tracks damp and boggy soils in cool habitats. Colonisation of the northern Andes is related to Quaternary climate change, with subsequent rapid diversification appearing to be driven by their ability to take advantage of environmental opportunities. This study demonstrates the composite origin of a mega-diverse biota.

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