• Antilles;
  • areas of endemism;
  • Brooks parsimony analysis;
  • Bursera;
  • Galapagos Islands;
  • historical biogeography;
  • Mexican tropics;
  • parsimony analysis of endemicity;
  • track analysis


Aim  The plant genus Bursera, with 104 species of trees and shrubs, has been used as a model for biogeographical analyses because of its high species richness and large number of endemic species. The biogeographical patterns of Bursera and their implications for its phylogenetic classification are reviewed in order that some hypotheses on the historical biogeography of tropical Mexico can be proposed.

Location Bursera is found in the south-western USA, most of Mexico, mainly below 1700 m elevation in tropical forests, with some species in xeric shrublands, diversifying along the Pacific slope, Central America, and north-western South America. A few species occur on the Galapagos and Revillagigedo archipelagos, some of which are endemics, whereas in the Antilles species are distributed extensively, with several endemics in the Bahamas, Cuba, Jamaica, and Hispaniola.

Methods  Data from specimens in herbaria and the literature were used to construct a matrix of 104 species in 160 areas. Distributional patterns of the species of Bursera were inferred applying track analysis, parsimony analysis of endemicity (PAE), and Brooks parsimony analysis (BPA).

Results  Track analysis revealed four individual tracks: (1) a circum-Caribbean track, comprising species of the Bursera simaruba species group; (2) an Antillean track, including species that have been transferred to Commiphora based on their pollen traits; (3) a Mexican Pacific track, including species of the B. fragilis, B. microphylla, and B. fagaroides species groups, called ‘cuajiotes’; and (4) a Neotropical Pacific track, including the two species groups assigned to section Bullockia, in which the individual track of the Bursera copallifera species group is nested within the track of the B. glabrifolia species group. The four tracks overlap in a node in the Mexican Pacific slope, where they are highly diversified. PAE allowed us to identify 22 areas of endemism: 12 in Mexico (11 along the Mexican Pacific slope), six in the Antilles, two in Central America, one in South America, and one in the Galapagos. The general area cladogram obtained by BPA has two main clades: one includes the greater Antilles; and the other, 12 Mexican areas of endemism.

Main conclusions Bursera fragilis, B. microphylla, and B. fagaroides species groups can be treated together as a new section within Bursera, sect. Quaxiotea, because they are segregated from the other groups of sect. Bursera based on morphological, anatomical, molecular and geographical evidence.