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Keywords:

  • Cape;
  • diversification;
  • ecological limits;
  • extinction;
  • Mediterranean Basin;
  • phylogeny;
  • radiation;
  • plant diversity;
  • South Africa;
  • speciation

Abstract

Aim

The Cape of southern Africa and the Mediterranean Basin, two of the world's five mediterranean-climate biodiversity hotspots, are exceptionally species-rich and constitute a well-described example of ecological convergence. However, the area-adjusted plant species diversity of the Cape is on average more than double that of the Mediterranean Basin. Here, we investigate the causes of this diversity asymmetry by drawing on phylogenetic information from a variety of plant groups and focusing on three competing hypotheses: diversity disparities arising from differential clade ages, diversification rates or diversity limits.

Location

Cape of southern Africa and the Mediterranean Basin.

Methods

We reviewed a variety of studies in order to contrast the geography, geomorphic history, biogeographical connectivity and ecological context in the two hotspots. We also tested the relationship between clade age and species richness in both regions based on phylogenetic information from 39 clades.

Results

Clades are on average older in the Cape than in the Mediterranean Basin. Clade age is a strong predictor of species diversity in the Cape, suggesting that diversity-dependent regulatory mechanisms may be weak. In contrast, we failed to find a relationship between age and diversity in the Mediterranean Basin, indicating that a diversity limit may have been achieved in multiple clades.

Main conclusions

The Cape has a higher species density than the Mediterranean Basin owing to a combination of older clade ages, high rates of diversification in certain lineages and an exceptionally high upper limit to diversity. High richness in the Cape is linked to long-term lineage persistence in a heterogeneous but stable evolutionary context. In contrast, the climatically unstable Mediterranean Basin has offered fewer opportunities for diversity accumulation in the long term (owing to high extinction rates), but appears to be a hotspot of recent rapid speciation.