Aim The role of dispersal versus vicariance for plant distribution patterns has long been disputed. We study the temporal and spatial diversification of Ranunculeae, an almost cosmopolitan tribe comprising 19 genera, to understand the processes that have resulted in the present inter-continental disjunctions.
Location All continents (except Antarctica).
Methods Based on phylogenetic analyses of nuclear and chloroplast DNA sequences for 18 genera and 89 species, we develop a temporal–spatial framework for the reconstruction of the biogeographical history of Ranunculeae. To estimate divergence dates, Bayesian uncorrelated rates analyses and four calibration points derived from geological, fossil and external molecular information were applied. Parsimony-based methods for dispersal–vicariance analysis (diva and Mesquite) and a maximum likelihood-based method (Lagrange) were used for reconstructing ancestral areas. Six areas corresponding to continents were delimited.
Results The reconstruction of ancestral areas is congruent in the diva and maximum likelihood-based analyses for most nodes, but Mesquite reveals equivocal results at deep nodes. Our study suggests a Northern Hemisphere origin for the Ranunculeae in the Eocene and a weakly supported vicariance event between North America and Eurasia. The Eurasian clade diversified between the early Oligocene and the late Miocene, with at least three independent migrations to the Southern Hemisphere. The North American clade diversified in the Miocene and dispersed later to Eurasia, South America and Africa.
Main conclusions Ranunculeae diversified between the late Eocene and the late Miocene. During this time period, the main oceanic barriers already existed between continents and thus dispersal is the most likely explanation for the current distribution of the tribe. In the Southern Hemisphere, a vicariance model related to the break-up of Gondwana is clearly rejected. Dispersals between continents could have occurred via migration over land bridges, such as the Bering Land Bridge, or via long-distance dispersal.
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