Alexander Gamisch & Hans Peter Comes
Figures from the author
Background: Tropical rainforests (TRFs) harbour almost half of the world’s vascular plant species diversity while covering only about 6–7% of land. However, why species richness varies amongst the Earth’s major TRF regions remains poorly understood. Here we investigate the evolutionary processes shaping continental species richness disparities of the pantropical, epiphytic and mostly TRF-dwelling orchid mega- genus Bulbophyllum (c. 1948 spp. in total) using diversification analyses based on a time-calibrated molecular phylogeny (including c. 45–50% spp. each from Madagascar, Africa, Neotropics, and 8.4% from the Asia-Pacific region), coupled with ecological niche modelling (ENM) of geographic distributions under present and past (Last Glacial Maximum; LGM) conditions.
Results: Our results suggest an early-to-late Miocene scenario of ‘out-of-Asia-Pacific’ origin and progressive, dispersal-mediated diversification in Madagascar, Africa and the Neotropics, respectively. Species richness disparities amongst these four TRF lineages are best explained by a time-for-speciation (i.e. clade age) effect rather than differences in net diversification or diversity-dependent diversification due to present or past spatial-bioclimatic limits. For each well-sampled lineage (Madagascar, Africa, Neotropics), we inferred high rates of speciation and extinction over time (i.e. high species turnover), yet with the origin of most extant species falling into the Quaternary. In contrast to predictions of classical ‘glacial refuge’ theories, all four lineages experienced dramatic range expansions during the LGM.
Conclusion: As the Madagascan, African and Neotropical lineages display constant-rate evolution since their origin (early-to-mid-Miocene), Quaternary environmental change might be a less important cause of their high species turnover than intrinsic features generally conferring rapid population turnover in tropical orchids (e.g., epiphytism, specialization on pollinators and mycorrhizal fungi, wind dispersal). Nonetheless, climate-induced range fluctuations during the Quaternary could still have played an influential role in the origination and extinction of Bulbophyllum species in those three, if not in all four TRF regions.
Published in H.P. BMC Evol Biol (2019) 19: 93.