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The Azores diversity enigma: why are there so few Azorean endemic flowering plants and why are they so widespread?

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Abstract Aim 

Endemism in the flora of the Azores is high (33%) but in other respects, notably the paucity of evolutionary radiations and the widespread distribution of most endemics, the flora differs markedly from the floras of the other Macaronesian archipelagos. We evaluate hypotheses to explain the distinctive patterns observed in the Azorean endemic flora, focusing particularly on comparisons with the Canary Islands. Location 

Azores archipelago. Methods 

Data on the distribution and ecology of Azorean endemic flowering plants are reviewed to ascertain the incidence of inter-island allopatric speciation and adaptive, ecological speciation. These are contrasted with patterns for the Canary Islands. Patterns of endemism in the Azores and Canaries are further investigated in a phylogenetic context in relation to island age.beastwas used to analyse a published molecular dataset for Pericallis (Asteraceae) and to investigate the relative ages of Azorean and Canarian lineages. Results 

There are few examples of inter-island allopatric speciation in the Azorean flora, despite the considerable distances between islands and sub-archipelagos. In contrast, inter-island allopatric speciation has been an important process in the evolution of the Canary Islands flora. Phylogenetic data suggest that Azorean endemic lineages are not necessarily recent in origin. Furthermore, in Pericallis the divergence of the Azorean endemic lineage from its closest relative pre-dates the radiation of a Canarian herbaceous clade by inter-island allopatric speciation. Main conclusions 

The data presented do not support suggestions that hypotheses pertaining to island age, age of endemic lineages and ecological diversity considered individually explain the lack of radiations and the widespread distribution of Azorean endemics. We suggest that palaeoclimatic variation, a factor rarely considered in macroecological studies of island diversity patterns, may be an important factor. Palaeoclimatic data suggest frequent and abrupt transitions between humid and arid conditions in the Canaries during the late Quaternary, and such an unstable climate may have driven the recent diversification of the flora by inter-island allopatric speciation, a process largely absent from the climatically more stable Azores. Further phylogenetic/phylogeographic analyses are necessary to determine the relative importance of palaeoclimate and other factors in generating the patterns observed.
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Keywords: Azores; Canary Islands; Macaronesia; Pericallis; endemism; oceanic archipelago; phylogeny; speciation; species diversity

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Section, Division of Biology, Imperial College London, Silwood Park Campus, Ascot, UK

Publication date: 2010-01-01

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