Biogeography of Protea in the Cape
Scientists are trying to understand the high diversity of plant species in the South African Cape by studying one of the region’s iconic genera – Protea.
22 Feb 2011
Protea compacta (Image: Tim Barraclough)
The South African Cape region is a hotspot of angiosperm biodiversity, but the reasons for the high levels of diversity and endemism are still obscure.
Protea (Proteaceae) is a genus that has its centre of species richness and endemism in the Cape, but its also has smaller numbers of species in tropical Africa, some occurring as far as Eritrea and Angola.
In a recent phylogenetic study of Protea published in Evolution, a team of scientists from Imperial College London, the South African National Biodiversity Institute, Real Jardín Botánico de Madrid, Tel Aviv University and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, identified the Cape as the ancestral area for the radiation of the extant lineages of the genus. Contrary to previous views, most species in subtropical and tropical Africa are derived from a single invasion, and diversification rates have been similar both inside and outside the Cape region. Migration northwards opened up vast areas, but the resulting lineages have not diversified as extensively at fine spatial scales as those in the Cape.
In Protea, higher net rates of diversification do not explain the high levels of diversity and endemism in the Cape. Instead, understanding the patterns of diversity in the Cape will require an explanation of how Cape species are able to diverge and persist at such small spatial scales.
Item from Dr Mike Fay (Head of Genetics, RBG Kew)
Originally published in Kew Scientist, issue 38
Valente, L.M., Reeves, G., Schnitzler, J., Mason, I.P., Fay, M.F., Chase M.W. & Barraclough, T.G. (2010). Diversification of the African genus Protea (Proteaceae) in the Cape biodiversity hotspot and beyond: equal rates in different biomes. Evolution 64:745-760
Scientific Research and Data
- U nderstanding and Conserving the Earth’s Biodiversity Hotspots (Kew Science Project)
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