Skip to main content
You are here
Facebook icon
Pinterest icon
Twitter icon

Biodiversity and Evolutionary Patterns in Mediterranean-type Ecosystems

Examine the evolutionary and ecological patterns and processes in the five Mediterranean regions of the world, with a particular focus on the integration of phylogenetic tools in biodiversity science.

Cape Eland in the fynbos of the Cape of South Africa (Photo: V. Savolainen)

Ever since the revolutionary ideas put forward by Charles Darwin, evolutionary studies have played a fundamental role in our understanding of life and the mechanisms that led to its current diversity. The outcomes of the work undertaken as part of this project will be used extensively to promote the use of phylogenetic information in biodiversity research and conservation planning. To achieve this, we use the five Mediterranean-type ecosystems of the world as case studies.

Despite accounting for less than five percent of the world’s surface, the five Mediterranean regions of the world comprise almost 50,000 species and 20 percent of the known vascular plants, and consequently are all considered to be among the 34 global biodiversity hotspots recognized by Conservation International. These five regions (Cape of South Africa, Southwestern Australia, Central Chile, California, and the Mediterranean Basin) have warm and dry summers, sharply contrasting with their cool and wet winters.

Before the Pliocene, the main vegetation type covering these regions was subtropical forest, which was gradually replaced by the current sclerophyllous vegetation, fynbos and renosterveld in the Cape, sclerophyllous forests and matorral in Chile, kwongan and mallee in SW Australia, chaparral in California, and matorral, maquis and garrigue in the Mediterranean Basin.

This project is still in its infancy. Most of the work to date has been done on the Cape of South Africa and the Southwestern Australian Floristic Region, while other projects are currently put into place in the other three Mediterranean regions. It has the potential to ramify in several directions, from phylogenetic diversity, biogeography, and community ecology, to conservation planning.

Key publications 2007-2012

  • Forest, F., Grenyer,R., Rouget, M., Davies, T.J., Cowling, R.M., Balmford, A., Faith, D.P., Manning, J.C., Proche≈ü, S., van der Bank, M., Reeves, G., Hedderson, T.A.J., & Savolainen, V. (2007). Preserving the evolutionary potential of floras in biodiversity hotspots. Nature 445: 757-760.
  • Forest, F., Nänni, I., Chase, M.W., Crane, P.R. & Hawkins, J.A. (2007) Diversification of a large genus in a continental biodiversity hotspot: temporal and spatial origin of Muraltia (Polygalaceae) in the Cape of South Africa. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 43: 60-74.
  • Hopper, S.D., Smith, R.J, Fay, M.F., Manning, J.C. & Chase, M.W. (2009). Molecular phylogenetics of Haemodoraceae in the Greater Cape and Southwest Australian Floristic Regions. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 51: 19-30.
  • Verboom, G.A., Archibald, J.K., Bakker, F.T., Bellstedt, D.U., Conrad, F., Dreyer, L.L., Forest, F., Galley, C., Goldblatt, P.  Henning, K.F., Mummenhoff, K., Linder, H.P., Muasya, A.M., Oberlander, K.C., Savolainen, V., Snijman, D.A., van der Niet, T. & Nowell, T.L. (2009). Origin and diversification of the Greater Cape flora: Ancient species repository, hot-bed of recent radiation, or both? Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 51: 44-53.
  • Moore, T.E., Verboom, G.A. & Forest, F. (2010). Phylogenetics and biogeography of the parasitic genus Thesium L. (Santalaceae), with an emphasis on the Cape of South Africa. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 162: 435–452.
  • Warren, B.H., Bakker, F.T., Bellstedt, D.U., Bytebier, B., Claßen-Bockhoff, R., Dreyer, L.L., Edwards, D., Forest, F., Galley, C., Hardy, C.R., Linder, H.P., Muasya, A.M., Mummenhoff, K., Oberlander, K.C., Quint, M., Richardson, J.E., Savolainen, V.,  Schrire, B.D., van der Niet, T., Verboom, G.A., Yesson, C. & Hawkins, J.A. (2011). Consistent phenological shifts in the making of a biodiversity hotspot: the Cape flora. BMC Evolutionary Biology 11: 39.
  • Buerki, S, S. Jose, Yadav, S.R., Goldblatt, P., Manning, J.C. & Forest, F. (2012). Contrasting biogeographic and diversification patterns in two Mediterranean-type ecosystems. PLoS ONE 7(6): e39377.

Project partners and collaborators

  • National Herbarium of New South Wales
  • Kings Park and Botanic Garden
  • Department of Environment and Conservation, Western Australia
  • Botanic Gardens Trust, Sydney
  • University of Chile, Santiago
South Africa
  • South African National Parks
  • University of Cape Town
  • South African National Biodiversity Institute
  • Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University
  • Real Jardin Botanico, Madrid
  • University of California Los Angeles
  • University of Memphis

Project team


Stephen Hopper, Rhian Smith

Herbarium, Library, Art & Archives

Steven Bachman

Jodrell Laboratory

Sven Buerki, Félix Forest

Science Teams: