• Bayesian relaxed clock;
  • East Gondwana;
  • Indian Ocean;
  • long-distance dispersal;
  • Monimiaceae;
  • Sri Lanka;
  • West Gondwana


Aim  The biogeography of the tropical plant family Monimiaceae has long been thought to reflect the break-up of West and East Gondwana, followed by limited transoceanic dispersal.

Location  Southern Hemisphere, with fossils in East and West Gondwana.

Methods  We use phylogenetic analysis of DNA sequences from 67 of the c. 200 species, representing 26 of the 28 genera of Monimiaceae, and a Bayesian relaxed clock model with fossil prior constraints to estimate species relationships and divergence times. Likelihood optimization is used to infer switches between biogeographical regions on the highest likelihood tree.

Results Peumus from Chile, Monimia from the Mascarenes and Palmeria from eastern Australia/New Guinea form a clade that is sister to all other Monimiaceae. The next-deepest split is between the Sri Lankan Hortonia and the remaining genera. The African Monimiaceae, Xymalos monospora, then forms the sister clade to a polytomy of five clades: (I) Mollinedia and allies from South America; (II) Tambourissa and allies from Madagascar and the Mascarenes; (III) Hedycarya, Kibariopsis and Leviera from New Zealand, New Caledonia and Australia; (IV) Wilkiea, Kibara, Kairoa; and (V) Steganthera and allies, all from tropical Australasia.

Main conclusions  Tree topology, fossils, inferred divergence times and ances-tral area reconstruction fit with the break-up of East Gondwana having left a still discernible signature consisting of sister clades in Chile and Australia. There is no support for previous hypotheses that the break-up of West Gondwana (Africa/South America) explains disjunctions in the Monimiaceae. The South American Mollinedia clade is only 28–16 Myr old, and appears to have arrived via trans-Pacific dispersal from Australasia. The clade apparently spread in southern South America prior to the Andean orogeny, fitting with its first-diverging lineage (Hennecartia) having a southern-temperate range. The crown ages of the other major clades (II–V) range from 20 to 29 Ma, implying over-water dispersal between Australia, New Caledonia, New Zealand, and across the Indian Ocean to Madagascar and the Mascarenes. The endemic genus Monimia on the Mascarenes provides an interesting example of an island lineage being much older than the islands on which it presently occurs.