How Evolution and Habitat Shape Plant Diversity Across Different Latitudes

Jenn Hoskins
24th May, 2024

How Evolution and Habitat Shape Plant Diversity Across Different Latitudes

Image Source: Natural Science News, 2024

Key Findings

  • The study focused on the genus Potentilla, which shows an inverse latitudinal diversity gradient, with more species in extratropical regions
  • Researchers found that Potentilla's high species richness in extratropical regions is due to higher diversification rates in these areas
  • The study highlighted that niche conservatism, where species retain their ancestral ecological traits, also plays a significant role in Potentilla's distribution
The latitudinal diversity gradient (LDG), which describes an increase in species richness from the poles to the equator, is a well-established pattern in ecology. Yet, some lineages exhibit an inverse LDG, where species richness peaks in extratropical regions. The causes of this inverse pattern have remained largely unclear. A recent study by the Chinese Academy of Sciences[1] aims to shed light on this phenomenon by examining the genus Potentilla, which includes approximately 500 species. To understand the inverse LDG in Potentilla, the researchers compiled global distributions for about 90% of Potentilla species and reconstructed a phylogenetic framework using whole-plastome sequences. This robust phylogenetic approach allowed them to analyze divergence times, ancestral areas, diversification rates, and ancestral niches. The study's findings contribute to our understanding of the LDG by highlighting the roles of evolutionary time, diversification rates, and niche conservatism. Evolutionary time refers to the period during which a lineage has been diversifying. Diversification rates are the rates at which new species form (speciation) and existing species become extinct. Niche conservatism is the tendency of species to retain their ancestral ecological traits over time. The research revealed that Potentilla's inverse LDG could be explained by a combination of these factors. Specifically, the genus shows higher diversification rates in extratropical regions. This contrasts with the general pattern where speciation rates are often highest in regions with lower species richness[2]. The findings suggest that in Potentilla, the extratropical regions provided conditions that favored faster diversification, leading to higher species richness in these areas. These results align with earlier studies that have emphasized the importance of integrating ecological and evolutionary processes to understand biodiversity patterns. For instance, the latitudinal diversity gradient (LDG) has been a topic of extensive research, yet its underlying causes are still debated[3]. The current study's use of phylogenetic and niche analyses provides a more mechanistic understanding of the inverse LDG, addressing some of the gaps identified in previous research. Moreover, the study's approach to combining evolutionary time and diversification rates echoes findings from research on other taxa. For example, a study on the plant tribe Lysimachieae found that neither time nor diversification rates alone could explain regional richness patterns. Instead, a combination of both factors was necessary to understand the high biodiversity in East Asia[4]. Similarly, the Potentilla study demonstrates that multiple factors must be considered to explain biodiversity patterns fully. The study also highlights the importance of niche conservatism in shaping species distributions. By examining the ancestral niches of Potentilla species, the researchers found that many species retained their ancestral ecological traits, which influenced their current distributions. This finding is consistent with the idea that niche conservatism can play a significant role in maintaining biodiversity gradients[3]. In summary, the Chinese Academy of Sciences' study on Potentilla provides valuable insights into the causes of inverse latitudinal diversity gradients. By integrating evolutionary time, diversification rates, and niche conservatism, the researchers offer a comprehensive explanation for the observed patterns. These findings contribute to a broader understanding of biodiversity gradients and underscore the importance of considering multiple factors in ecological and evolutionary studies.

EcologyPlant ScienceEvolution


Main Study

1) Radiating diversification and niche conservatism jointly shape the inverse latitudinal diversity gradient of Potentilla L. (Rosaceae)

Published 23rd May, 2024

Related Studies

2) Speciation gradients and the distribution of biodiversity.

3) The Latitudinal Diversity Gradient: Novel Understanding through Mechanistic Eco-evolutionary Models.

4) What explains high plant richness in East Asia? Time and diversification in the tribe Lysimachieae (Primulaceae).

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