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Nature. 2004 Jan 1;427(6969):63-5.

Unmatched tempo of evolution in Southern African semi-desert ice plants.

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Bolus Herbarium, Department of Botany, University of Cape Town, 7701 Rondebosch, South Africa.


The Succulent Karoo is an arid region, situated along the west coast of southern Africa. Floristically this region is part of the Greater Cape Flora and is considered one of the Earth's 25 biodiversity hotspots. Of about 5,000 species occurring in this region, more than 40% are endemic. Aizoaceae (ice plants) dominate the Succulent Karoo both in terms of species numbers (1,750 species in 127 genera) and density of coverage. Here we show that a well-supported clade within the Aizoaceae, representing 1,563 species almost exclusively endemic to southern Africa, has diversified very recently and very rapidly. The estimated age for this radiation lies between 3.8 and 8.7 million years (Myr) ago, yielding a per-lineage diversification rate of 0.77-1.75 per million years. Both the number of species involved and the tempo of evolution far surpass those of any previously postulated continental or island plant radiation. Diversification of the group is closely associated with the origin of several morphological features and one anatomical feature. Because species-poor clades lacking these features occur over a very similar distribution area, we propose that these characteristics are key innovations that facilitated this radiation.

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