The origin of modern patterns of continental diversity in Mauritiinae palms: the Neotropical museum and the Afrotropical graveyard.
Bacon, Christine D.
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While the latitudinal diversity gradient has received much attention, biodiversity and species richness also vary between continents across similar latitudes. Fossil information can be used to understand the evolutionary mechanisms that generated such variation between continents of similar latitudes. We integrated fossil data into a phylogenetic analysis of the Mauritiinae palms, whose extant diversity is restricted to the Neotropics, but extended across Africa and India during most of the Cenozoic. Mauritiinae diverged from its sister lineage Raphiinae 106 Ma. Using ancestral state estimation and a lineage through time analysis, we found that diversity arose globally during the late Cretaceous and Palaeocene across South America, Africa and India. The Palaeocene–Eocene transition ( 56 Ma) marked the end of global Mauritiinae expansion, and the beginning of their decline in both Africa and India. Mauritiinae disappeared from the Indian subcontinent and Africa at the end of the Eocene and the Miocene, respectively. By contrast, Neotropical diversity steadily increased over the last 80 Myr. Taken together, our results suggest that the Neotropics functioned as a continental-scale refuge for Mauritiinae palms, where lineages survived and diversified while global climatic changes that drastically reduced rainforests led to their demise on other continents.