High-latitude tertiary migrations of an exclusively tropical clade: Evidence from Malpighiaceae

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Conference Proceeding

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Explanations of tropical intercontinental disjunctions involving South America and Africa typically invoke vicariance of western Gondwanan biotas or long-distance dispersal. However, many plant groups originated and diversified well after the last direct connection between Africa and South America (ca. 105 million years before the present [mybp]), and it is unlikely that long-distance dispersal accounts for the distribution of all of these. A less commonly invoked explanation, the boreotropics hypothesis, indicates that some tropical disjunctions arose during the Tertiary via high-latitude land connections when northern forests supported tropical vegetation. Malpighiaceae are widely distributed across Africa and South America and have been explained as ancient "Gondwanian aborigines" (i.e., vicariants of western Gondwanan biotas) or more recent "American colonists" (i.e., long-distance dispersalists from South America into the Old World). Fossil and phylogenetic evidence from clock-independent estimates of molecular divergence times indicate that Malpighiaceae originated in South America during the latest Cretaceous (ca. 68 mybp), in isolation from Africa, and that six amphi-Atlantic disjunctions within the family occurred during three major episodes: late Paleocene (ca. 60 mybp), latest Eocene-earliest Oligocene (ca. 34-31 mybp), and early Miocene (ca. 21-17 mybp). These age estimates reject a Gondwanan origin for Malpighiaceae, and strict dispersal scenarios ignore paleoclimate, paleoland configurations, and fossil evidence that indicates that the family once inhabited northern latitudes. Instead, these data suggest that Paleocene-Oligocene amphi-Atlantic disjunct groups in Malpighiaceae moved into North America from South America via the Caribbean Basin, crossed the North Atlantic into Eurasia, and subsequently reached the Old World Tropics during warm intervals when land configurations would have facilitated this migration. Whether Miocene migrations of evergreen thermophilic Malpighiaceae proceeded via northern latitudes or long-distance dispersal is less clear.

Publication Source (Journal or Book title)

International Journal of Plant Sciences

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