With ~2,500 species and a Pantropical distribution, the palm family (Arecaceae) has emerged as an important model taxon for studies of tropical plant diversity. In a recent review we showed that palm species distributions, species composition, and species richness depend on ecological factors at various spatial scales, but there are also strong indications of historical legacies. The influence of contemporary environments notwithstanding, diversity patterns can be shaped over tens of millions of years by the processes of speciation, extinction, niche evolution, and long-term dispersal limitation. Robust and well-resolved phylogenetic trees, in combination with comprehensive distributional and trait data, can provide important insights into the long-term causes of spatial biodiversity patterns. Palms lend themselves to such research not least due to an exceptionally good data basis, and several studies using a variety of approaches have recently shown that the distribution of palm diversity is strongly influenced by the phylogenetic history of the family. Here, we provide an overview of evidence for evolutionary imprints on palm diversity patterns (sensu lato), including our own studies where we applied ecoinformatics to study phylogenetic diversity and assemblage structure. It appears that evolutionary processes are important for palm diversity patterns across spatial scales ranging from local communities to biogeographic realms, with the influence of individual processes being scale dependent. We suggest that a further integration of phylogenetic, biogeographic, macroevolutionary and ecoinformatics approaches is needed to better quantify the spatial and temporal scaling of evolutionary processes underlying palm diversity dynamics.
Main Research Area:
International Conference on Comarative Biology of Monocotyledons, 2013