A reconstruction of Palaeo-Macaronesia, with particular reference to the long-term biogeography of the Atlantic island laurel forests

Authors

  • José María Fernández-Palacios,

    Corresponding author
    1. Island Ecology and Biogeography Research Group, Instituto Universitario de Enfermedades Tropicales y Salud Pública de Canarias, Universidad de La Laguna, La Laguna, 38206, Tenerife, Spain
    2. Biodiversity Research Group, School of Geography and the Environment, Oxford University Centre for the Environment, South Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3QY, UK
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Lea de Nascimento,

    1. Island Ecology and Biogeography Research Group, Instituto Universitario de Enfermedades Tropicales y Salud Pública de Canarias, Universidad de La Laguna, La Laguna, 38206, Tenerife, Spain
    2. Biodiversity Research Group, School of Geography and the Environment, Oxford University Centre for the Environment, South Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3QY, UK
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Rüdiger Otto,

    1. Island Ecology and Biogeography Research Group, Instituto Universitario de Enfermedades Tropicales y Salud Pública de Canarias, Universidad de La Laguna, La Laguna, 38206, Tenerife, Spain
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Juan D. Delgado,

    1. Department of Physics, Chemical and Natural Systems, Universidad Pablo de Olavide, Carretera de Utrera, km 1, Seville, 41013, Spain
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Eduardo García-del-Rey,

    1. Island Ecology and Biogeography Research Group, Instituto Universitario de Enfermedades Tropicales y Salud Pública de Canarias, Universidad de La Laguna, La Laguna, 38206, Tenerife, Spain
    Search for more papers by this author
  • José Ramón Arévalo,

    1. Island Ecology and Biogeography Research Group, Instituto Universitario de Enfermedades Tropicales y Salud Pública de Canarias, Universidad de La Laguna, La Laguna, 38206, Tenerife, Spain
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Robert J. Whittaker

    1. Biodiversity Research Group, School of Geography and the Environment, Oxford University Centre for the Environment, South Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3QY, UK
    2. Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate, Department of Biology, University of Copenhagen, Universitetsparken 15, DK-2100, Copenhagen, Denmark
    Search for more papers by this author

  • Note: Within the text we have followed Rio et al.’s (1998) recommendation of incorporating the Gelasian Age (2.6–1.8 Ma) within the Pleistocene, thus yielding a Pliocene/Quaternary limit at 2.6 Ma.

José María Fernández-Palacios, Island Ecology and Biogeography Group, Instituto Universitario de Enfermedades Tropicales y Salud Pública de Canarias, Universidad de La Laguna, La Laguna, 38206, Tenerife, Spain.
E-mail: jmferpal@ull.es

Abstract

Macaronesia is a biogeographical region comprising five Atlantic Oceanic archipelagos: the Azores, Madeira, Selvagen (Savage Islands), Canaries and Cape Verde. It has strong affinities with the Atlantic coast of the Iberian Peninsula and the north-western fringes of Africa. This paper re-evaluates the biogeographical history and relationships of Macaronesia in the light of geological evidence, which suggests that large and high islands may have been continuously available in the region for very much longer than is indicated by the maximum surface area of the oldest current island (27 Ma) – possibly for as long as 60 million years. We review this literature, attempting a sequential reconstruction of Palaeo-Macaronesia from 60 Ma to the present. We consider the implications of these geological dynamics for our understanding of the history of colonization of the present islands of Macaronesia. We also evaluate the role of these archipelagos as stepping stones and as both repositories of palaeo-endemic forms and crucibles of neo-endemic radiations of plant and animal groups. Our principal focus is on the laurel forest communities, long considered impoverished relicts of the Palaeotropical Tethyan flora. This account is therefore contextualized by reference to the long-term climatic and biogeographical history of Southern Europe and North Africa and by consideration of the implications of changes in land–sea configuration, climate and ocean circulation for Macaronesian biogeography. We go on to provide a synthesis of the more recent history of Macaronesian forests, which has involved a process of impoverishment of the native elements of the biota that has accelerated since human conquest of the islands. We comment briefly on these processes and on the contemporary status and varied conservation opportunities and threats facing these forests across the Macaronesian biogeographical region.

Ancillary