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Geohistorical and current environmental influences on floristic differentiation in the Ryukyu Archipelago, Japan

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Abstract Aim 

Floristic differentiation in the Ryukyu Archipelago has been explained primarily by geohistory, specifically landbridge formation and vicariance at the Tokara and Kerama Gaps, two deep-sea channels through the island arc. This ignores current environmental effects, which may also be important. We therefore tested whether the floristic differentiation pattern is explained primarily by the historical effect of the gaps as barriers, or whether a better understanding of floristic differentiation is achieved when both historical and current environmental factors are incorporated. Location 

Ryukyu Archipelago, Japan: an assemblage of continental islands. Methods 

We compiled a presence–absence matrix of 1815 plant species on 26 islands. Floristic dissimilarity distances between islands were calculated using Simpson’s similarity index and analysed using cluster analysis. We also conducted multiple regression on distance matrices (MRM) to examine the significance of the historical factors of the gaps and current environmental factors: geographical distance among islands and differences in island area and maximum elevation. Results 

We detected clear patterns of floristic differentiation across the gaps. Using the two gaps as explanatory variables, the MRM showed that both had significant effects on floristic dissimilarity distance. However, when geographical distance was added to the explanatory model, the Kerama Gap effect disappeared. When all five explanatory variables were used, the Tokara Gap and geographical distance had positive effects, but area difference had a negative effect. The Kerama Gap and difference in maximum elevation had no effect. Main conclusions 

The geographical pattern of floristic differentiation appears to indicate the influence of both gaps. However, the MRM indicates that the floristic differentiation across the Kerama Gap is no more than could be explained solely by geographical distance. Across the Tokara Gap, however, floristic differentiation is larger than geographical distance alone can explain. This additional differentiation is attributable to the effect of the historical barrier. To verify the significance of historical effects of vicariance on island biota, the confounding effects of geographical distance must be considered. The distance decay of floristic similarity and negative effect of area difference on floristic differentiation demonstrate that floristic differentiation is better understood by incorporating both historical and current environmental factors.
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Keywords: Continental islands; MRM analysis; deep-sea barriers; distance-decay of similarity; environmental factors; floristic similarity; island area; seed plants; vicariance

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Laboratory of Ecology and Systematics, Faculty of Science, University of the Ryukyus, Nishihara, Okinawa, Japan

Publication date: 2009-05-01

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