Historical biogeography of Rhododendron section Vireya and the Malesian Archipelago
Vireya rhododendrons are distinctive and easily recognizable by their general form; however, they are virtually circumscribed geographically, predominantly distributed throughout the biogeographically intriguing Malesian Archipelago. Hypotheses of the evolutionary relationships of the group have been proposed but the biogeography of vireyas has not been analysed based on molecular phylogeny. Recently, the first detailed molecular phylogenetic investigation of section Vireya was completed based on cp- and nrDNA sequence data, therefore making this cladistic biogeographic study of vireya rhododendrons possible. Location
Malesia, Australia, Solomon Islands, Taiwan, Himalayas, north Vietnam and south China. Methods
Based on distribution maps, areas of endemism were determined for the biogeographic region of Malesia. Area relationships were analysed based on a recent molecular phylogeny of species in section Vireya. The method of paralogy-free subtree analysis was applied. Results
Individual distribution maps were produced for 74 species of Rhododendron section Vireya. Species clades with bootstrap support proved to be biogeographically informative. Major clades correspond to three regions: eastern Malesia, western/middle Malesia and Taiwan/north Vietnam/south China. Within eastern Malesia, Australia, New Guinea, the Bismarck Archipelago and Solomon Islands are related. In western Malesia, northern Philippines, Borneo, southern Moluccas and north and west Sulawesi are related. These areas are more distantly related to Sumatra, the Malay peninsula, Java, Bali, Palawan, Lesser Sunda islands and the southern Philippines. The position of the Himalayas is equivocal and part of a basal polytomy in the summary area cladogram. Main conclusions
Two alternative hypotheses are proposed for the evolution of vireya rhododendrons based on the pattern of area relationships. The first hypothesis is that the vireyas are an old group, with ancestors present on Gondwana, rifting north in the Cretaceous. The second alternative hypothesis is that vireyas are a young group that has dispersed eastwards from India to Australia and the Solomon Islands since the current Malesian islands formed.