Geographical distribution and ecological conservatism of disjunct genera of vascular plants in eastern Asia and eastern North America


  • Hong Qian,

    Corresponding author
    1. Research and Collections Center, Illinois State Museum, 1011 East Ash Street, Springfield, IL 62703, USA and
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  • Robert E. Ricklefs

    1. Research and Collections Center, Illinois State Museum, 1011 East Ash Street, Springfield, IL 62703, USA and
    2. Department of Biology, University of Missouri-St Louis, St Louis, MO 63121–4499, USA
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Hong Qian (e-mail


  • 1We evaluated geographical and climate distributions of 57 vascular plant genera that have disjunct distributions primarily restricted to south-eastern Asia (EAS) and south-eastern North America (ENA). Because clades of each genus in the two regions are considered sister taxa, differences in ecological relationships between the regions reflect independent evolutionary responses to environmental factors and allow a test of ecological conservatism or parallelism.
  • 2The disjunct genera were found to be distributed in 270 grid cells, 163 in EAS and 107 in ENA, each with 3.75° extent in latitude and longitude. Individual disjunct genera occupied larger areas and latitudinal ranges in eastern Asia than in eastern North America, which parallels the larger area and latitudinal range of suitable climate in eastern Asia.
  • 3For all EAS-ENA disjunct genera taken together, the midpoint latitude, northernmost latitude, latitude range and area occupied were all significantly correlated between the two regions. For woody genera, only the correlation for midpoint latitude was significant, whereas for herbaceous genera, all except midpoint latitude were significant.
  • 4A twinspan analysis partitioned the grid cells into four distinctive groups based on presence or absence of the disjunct genera. Grid cells representing these groups in EAS and ENA remained clustered when plotted on axes defined by floristic ordination (non-metric multidimensional scaling) or climate variables (discriminant analysis), showing that the disjunct genera have similar floristic relationships to each other within regions and respond, to a large degree, in parallel to climate variables.
  • 5The lack of correlation in distribution variables among woody genera between the continents in part reflects the greater propensity of eastern Asian woody disjunct genera to extend southwards into subtropical and tropical latitudes.
  • 6Although the disjunct genera exhibit significant conservatism in geographical and climate distribution, reflecting their common evolutionary ancestry, differences between regions in geography, physiography and climate have also acted to diversify environmental relationships between continents.