Climatic and topographical correlates of plant palaeo- and neoendemism in a Mediterranean biodiversity hotspot

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Background and Aims Understanding the evolutionary and ecological forces contributing to the emergence of biodiversity hotspots is of outstanding importance to elucidate how they may withstand current climate changes. Here we explored patterns of phylogenetic and non-phylogenetic plant endemism in a Mediterranean biodiversity hotspot. We hypothesized that areas with wet and equable climatic conditions would be prone to long-term persistence of endemic lineages (palaeoendemism), whilst areas of recent local speciation (neoendemism) would be more related to harsher environmental conditions and to high topographical relief promoting speciation.

Methods We focused on the Baetic–Rifan biodiversity hotspot (southern Iberian Peninsula and northern Morocco) in combination with molecular phylogenetic information and relative phylogenetic endemism (RPE), a recent phylogenetic measure of endemism, allowing us to discern centres of palaeo- from those of neoendemism. Using eco-geographical regions as study units, we explored correlations between both RPE and endemic species richness with precipitation- and temperature-related variables and with elevation range.

Key Results Centres of neoendemism were concentrated towards the easternmost part of the hotspot, while centres of palaeoendemism were clustered in the vicinity of the Strait of Gibraltar. The RPE index, indicating more palaeoendemism, was positively correlated with total annual precipitation, while endemic species richness showed a poor correlation. In contrast, elevation range and mean annual temperature were poor predictors of RPE, despite elevation range showing a strong correlation with endemic species richness.

Conclusions The Baetic–Rifan biodiversity hotspot shows clearly differentiated centres of neo- and palaeoendemism. Topographical relief may have driven evolutionary diversification of newly evolved species, while water availability seems more critical for the long-term persistence of ancient lineages in refuge areas of smoother topography. Given climatic trends towards increasing aridification, conservation planners should pay particular attention to preserve areas retaining older phylogenetic lineages, as these areas act as ‘natural museums’ of biodiversity within the Baetic–Rifan biodiversity hotspot.

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