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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2009 Jan 6;106(1):221-5. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0805607106. Epub 2008 Dec 30.

Contrasted patterns of hyperdiversification in Mediterranean hotspots.

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Jodrell Laboratory, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond TW9 3DS, United Kingdom.


Dating the Tree of Life has now become central to relating patterns of biodiversity to key processes in Earth history such as plate tectonics and climate change. Regions with a Mediterranean climate have long been noted for their exceptional species richness and high endemism. How and when these biota assembled can only be answered with a good understanding of the sequence of divergence times for each of their components. A critical aspect of dating by using molecular sequence divergence is the incorporation of multiple suitable age constraints. Here, we show that only rigorous phylogenetic analysis of fossil taxa can lead to solid calibration and, in turn, stable age estimates, regardless of which of 3 relaxed clock-dating methods is used. We find that Proteaceae, a model plant group for the Mediterranean hotspots of the Southern Hemisphere with a very rich pollen fossil record, diversified under higher rates in the Cape Floristic Region and Southwest Australia than in any other area of their total distribution. Our results highlight key differences between Mediterranean hotspots and indicate that Southwest Australian biota are the most phylogenetically diverse but include numerous lineages with low diversification rates.

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