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Explaining the origins of species diversity

last modified Jul 09, 2015 09:10 AM

A new paper by the Tanentzap group has been published in the July 2014 Special Issue of New Phytologist (DOI: 10.1111/nph.13362).  The issue promises to be a landmark in the nascent field of evolutionary plant radiations, drawing together the world’s foremost experts in plant ecology, evolution, and systematics to summarize the current state of knowledge about "where, when, why, and how" plant radiations happened.  Most of the published contributions emerged from a symposium organized in Zurich in July 2015, and where the Tanentzap group presented on-going research testing how niche formation influences rates of species diversification using mathematical models (a PhD studentship is in fact available for this work).

In their new paper, Tanentzap et al. test the mechanisms by which plant evolutionary radiations emerge and influence ecological dynamics.  They focus on 16 species-rich genera in the alpine zone of New Zealand.  Using palaeoclimatic and palaeogeological data, the environmental history of each genus is reconstructed over the last 20 million years.  The results suggest that genera that colonized New Zealand earlier would have encountered more ‘vacant’ environmental space, which promoted species diversification and further occupancy of the environment.  Genera that occupied more environmental space were subsequently more dominant in present-day communities.  Time therefore plays a key role in explaining not only why diversity arises, but how this diversity influences ecological dynamics.

  • Tanentzap, A. J., Brandt, A. J., Smissen, R. D., Heenan, P. B., Fukami, T. and Lee, W. G. (2015), When do plant radiations influence community assembly? The importance of historical contingency in the race for niche space. New Phytologist, 207: 468–479. doi: 10.1111/nph.13362