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The biogeography of Gunnera L.: vicariance and dispersal

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Abstract Aim

The genus Gunnera is distributed in South America, Africa and the Australasian region, a few species reaching Hawaii and southern Mexico in the North. A cladogram was used to (1) discuss the biogeography of Gunnera and (2) subsequently compare this biogeographical pattern with the geological history of continents and the patterns reported for other Southern Hemisphere organisms. Location

Africa, northern South America, southern South America, Tasmania, New Zealand, New Guinea/Malaya, Hawaii, North America, Antarctica. Methods

A phylogenetic analysis of twenty-six species of Gunnera combining morphological characters and new as well as published sequences of the ITS region, rbcL and the rps16 intron, was used to interpret the biogeographical patterns in Gunnera. Vicariance was applied in the first place and dispersal was only assumed as a second best explanation. Results

The Uruguayan/Brazilian Gunnera herteri Osten (subgenus Ostenigunnera Mattfeld) is sister to the rest of the genus, followed sequentially upwards by the African G. perpensa L. (subgenus Gunnera), in turn sister to all other, American and Australasian, species. These are divided into two clades, one containing American/Hawaiian species, the other containing all Australasian species. Within the Australasian clade, G. macrophylla Blume (subgenus Pseudogunnera Schindler), occurring in New Guinea and Malaya, is sister to a clade including the species from New Zealand and Tasmania (subgenus Milligania Schindler). The southern South American subgenus Misandra Schindler is sister to a clade containing the remaining American, as well as the Hawaiian species (subgenus Panke Schindler). Within subgenus Panke, G. mexicana Brandegee, the only North American species in the genus, is sister to a clade wherein the Hawaiian species are basal to all south and central American taxa. Main conclusions

According to the cladogram, South America appears in two places, suggesting an historical explanation for northern South America to be separate from southern South America. Following a well-known biogeographical pattern of vicariance, Africa is the sister area to the combined southern South America/Australasian clade. Within the Australasian clade, New Zealand is more closely related to New Guinea/Malaya than to southern South America, a pattern found in other plant cladograms, contradictory to some of the patterns supported by animal clades and by the geological hypothesis, respectively. The position of the Tasmanian G. cordifolia, nested within the New Zealand clade indicates dispersal of this species to Tasmania. The position of G. mexicana, the only North American species, as sister to the remaining species of subgenus Panke together with the subsequent sister relation between Hawaii and southern South America, may reflect a North American origin of Panke and a recolonization of South America from the north. This is in agreement with the early North American fossil record of Gunnera and the apparent young age of the South American clade.
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Keywords: Antarctic; Gunnera; biogeography; dispersal; geology; vicariance

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Botany, University of Stockholm, Stockholm, Sweden and

Publication date: 2003-07-01

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