Explaining disparities in species richness between Mediterranean floristic regions: a case study in Gladiolus (Iridaceae)


Luis M. Valente, Imperial College London, Silwood Park Campus, Ascot, Berkshire, SL5 7PY, UK. E-mail: lvalente@rjb.csic.es


Aim  The causes of geographical variation in species richness in clades that do not follow the latitudinal diversity gradient have rarely been investigated. Here, we examine spatial asymmetries of diversity in Gladiolus (Iridaceae), a large genus (> 260 species) that is present in two mediterranean climate biomes: the Cape of southern Africa (106 species) and the Mediterranean Basin (7 species). Despite convergence of climatic conditions between the two regions, the species density of Gladiolus is over one order of magnitude higher in the Cape than in the Mediterranean Basin. We investigate whether the diversity disparities observed in the genus are better explained by recent colonization of species-poor areas (temporal hypothesis) or by differential rates of diversification (evolutionary hypothesis).

Location  Africa, Madagascar and Eurasia

Methods  We employ a recently developed Bayesian method for the estimation of diversification rates and a biogeographical optimization approach within a phylogenetic framework.

Results  In Gladiolus, the ‘diversity anomaly’ between the two Mediterranean climate regions cannot be explained solely by the time available for speciation in the Cape, but is also due to locally reduced rates of diversification in the Mediterranean Basin. Furthermore, high overall diversity in southern Africa stems from an ancient origin in the Cape allied with high rates of diversification in the summer-rainfall region of the subcontinent.

Main conclusions  Both evolutionary and temporal hypotheses must be taken into account in order to explain the diversity anomaly between the Mediterranean Basin and the Cape. Our results suggest that regions at comparable latitudes and/or with similar climate may not converge in diversity levels due to heterogeneity of diversification rates and contrasting biogeographical histories.