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Experimental biogeography: the role of environmental gradients in high geographic diversity in Cape Proteaceae

  • Author(s): Latimer, Andrew M.
  • Silander, J. A.
  • Rebelo, A. G.
  • Midgley, G. F.
  • et al.
Abstract

One of the fundamental dimensions of biodiversity is the rate of species turnover across geographic distance. The Cape Floristic Region of South Africa has exceptionally high geographic species turnover, much of which is associated with groups of closely related species with mostly or completely non-overlapping distributions. A basic unresolved question about biodiversity in this global hotspot is the relative importance of ecological gradients in generating and maintaining high geographic turnover in the region. We used reciprocal transplant experiments to test the extent to which abiotic environmental factors may limit the distributions of a group of closely related species in the genus Protea (Proteaceae), and thus elevate species turnover in this diverse, iconic family. We tested whether these species have a “home site advantage” in demographic rates (germination, growth, mortality), and also parameterized stage-structured demographic models for the species. Two of the three native species were predicted to have a demographic advantage at their home sites. The models also predicted, however, that species could maintain positive population growth rates at sites beyond their current distribution limits. Thus the experiment suggests that abiotic limitation under current environmental conditions does not fully explain the observed distribution limits or resulting biogeographic pattern. One potentially important mechanism is dispersal limitation, which is consistent with estimates based on genetic data and mechanistic dispersal models, though other mechanisms including competition may also play a role.

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