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A preliminary analysis of distribution patterns in a large, pantropical genus, Barleria L. (Acanthaceae)

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Barleria L. (Acanthaceae) is a large, polymorphic, widespread genus of herbs and shrubs comprising about 300 species, occurring mainly in Africa and Asia but with one species, Barleria oenotheroides Dum.Cours., extending to the New World tropics. Recent completion of a monographic infra-generic classification of the genus (in which seven sections are recognised, and the names of four of these validated in this paper—see Appendix 1), has facilitated a comprehensive analysis of distribution patterns on a global scale. The richest representation of Barleria is in Africa where there are two centres of diversity, one in tropical East Africa (about eighty species) and the other in southern Africa (about seventy species). The number of species tails off rapidly to both the Far East and the West. Barleria shows a marked trans-Atlantic disjunction between West Africa and the Neotropics, with B. oenotheroides shared by these two regions. This type of disjunction, which is known in other genera of the family, cannot be adequately explained in Barleria on the basis of long-distance dispersal or past continental movements. There is a high degree of regional endemism (e.g. 75% for the Indian subcontinent) at both the species and sectional levels within this genus. The degree of similarity between regions is correspondingly low. The endemics in each region tend to belong to only one or a few of the sections. There are few truly widespread taxa within the genus. East and West Africa are the only regions in which all sections are represented. Sections Barleria and Prionitis C.B. Cl. are the most widespread in the genus; Sections Somalia (Oliv.) Lindau, Fissimura M. Balkwill and Stellatohirtae M. Balkwill are mainly restricted to Africa and Sections Chrysothrix M. Balkwill and Cavirostrata M. Balkwill are the most restricted, occurring mainly in India and Sri Lanka. On a local scale, many of the species show highly restricted, clumped distributions; this is apparently related to particular soil types and possibly to the short-distance, ballistic mode of seed dispersal. This account of the biogeography of Barleria is to be regarded as preliminary, as much taxonomic work at the species level remains to be done before a full-scale cladistic biogeographic account can be undertaken. Particular areas worthy of future investigation include establishing the centre of origin of the genus and investigating the basis for the high degree of endemism shown by many of the species.
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Keywords: Acanthacea; Barleria; disjunction; distribution; endemism; phylogeny

Document Type: Original Article

Publication date: 1998-01-01

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