Proteas are best known as the national symbol of South Africa. The international team behind today's new study created an evolutionary 'family tree' of all 2,000 protea plant species on Earth - the majority of which are found in South Western Australia (SWA) and the Cape Floristic Region (CFR) of South Africa. This 'family tree' enabled the researchers to examine how these and other regions of the planet with Mediterranean-style climates have become so-called 'biodiversity hotspots'.
Until now, scientists have not known exactly why such large numbers of plant and animal species live in these Mediterranean hotspots. They are places of significant conservational importance which, like the rainforests, contain some of the richest and most threatened communities of plant and animal life on Earth.
The research published today provides the first conclusive proof that plant species in two of these hotspots are evolving approximately three times faster than elsewhere on the planet. The study dates this surge in protea speciation as occurring in the last 10-20 million years, following a period of climate change during which SWA and the CFR became hotter, drier, and more prone to vegetation fires.
Dr Vincent Savolainen, a biologist based at Imperial College London and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, one of the authors of the new study, explains its significance, saying:
"Something special is happening in these regions: new species of proteas are appearing notably faster than elsewhere, and we suspect this could be the same case with other plant species too. This study proves that the abundance of different kinds of proteas in these two areas isn't simply due to normal rates of species diversification occurring over a long period of time.
"This is the first step towards understanding why some parts of the planet with a Mediterranean-style climate have become species-rich biodiversity hotspots."
Dr Savolainen and his colleagues believe that climatic changes millions of years ago could be one of the factors that prompted the protea plants' 'hyperdiversification' in SWA and the CFR. As these two regions became hotter, dryer, and prone to seasonal fires, proteas - which are drought-resistant and able to re-grow easily after a fire - would have survived, thrived and diversified into new species when faced with less competition for resources from less hardy plants.
Dr Savolainen concludes: "South Western Australia and the Cape Floristic Region of South Africa are areas of great interest to both evolutionary biologists and conservationists, because they contain such a rich profusion of life but are under threat from mankind's activities.
"Understanding more about the evolutionary history of these biodiversity 'hotspots' is important because it can help make conservation efforts more efficient."
Proteas live in the southern hemisphere and come in many different shapes and sizes, from 35-metre-tall trees to low growing shrubs. All proteas have leathery leaves and cup-shaped groupings of small, brightly coloured flowers that resemble thistles.
The Cape Floristic Region of South Africa and South Western Australia are two of five areas on Earth with a Mediterranean-style climate which have been designated 'biodiversity hotspots' by Conservation International. The others are: central Chile, California, and the mediterranean basin.
Danielle Reeves | alfa
Despite government claims, orangutan populations have not increased. Call for better monitoring
06.11.2018 | Deutsches Zentrum für integrative Biodiversitätsforschung (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig
Increasing frequency of ocean storms could alter kelp forest ecosystems
30.10.2018 | University of Virginia
Researchers at the University of New Hampshire have captured a difficult-to-view singular event involving "magnetic reconnection"--the process by which sparse particles and energy around Earth collide producing a quick but mighty explosion--in the Earth's magnetotail, the magnetic environment that trails behind the planet.
Magnetic reconnection has remained a bit of a mystery to scientists. They know it exists and have documented the effects that the energy explosions can...
Biochips have been developed at TU Wien (Vienna), on which tissue can be produced and examined. This allows supplying the tissue with different substances in a very controlled way.
Cultivating human cells in the Petri dish is not a big challenge today. Producing artificial tissue, however, permeated by fine blood vessels, is a much more...
Faster and secure data communication: This is the goal of a new joint project involving physicists from the University of Würzburg. The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research funds the project with 14.8 million euro.
In our digital world data security and secure communication are becoming more and more important. Quantum communication is a promising approach to achieve...
On Saturday, 10 November 2018, the research icebreaker Polarstern will leave its homeport of Bremerhaven, bound for Cape Town, South Africa.
When choosing materials to make something, trade-offs need to be made between a host of properties, such as thickness, stiffness and weight. Depending on the application in question, finding just the right balance is the difference between success and failure
Now, a team of Penn Engineers has demonstrated a new material they call "nanocardboard," an ultrathin equivalent of corrugated paper cardboard. A square...
09.11.2018 | Event News
06.11.2018 | Event News
23.10.2018 | Event News
16.11.2018 | Health and Medicine
16.11.2018 | Life Sciences
16.11.2018 | Life Sciences