Australian Systematic Botany Australian Systematic Botany Society
Taxonomy, biogeography and evolution of plants

Just Accepted

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Metapopulation vicariance in the Pacific genus Coprosma (Rubiaceae) and its Gondwanan relatives

Michael Heads


Coprosma is perhaps the most ubiquitous plant genus in New Zealand. It belongs to the tribe Anthospermeae, which is distinctive in the family Rubiaceae through its small, simple, wind-pollinated flowers and its southern hemisphere distribution. The tribe comprises four main clades found, respectively, in South Africa, Africa, Australia and the Pacific. The high level of allopatry among the four subtribes is attributed here to their origin by vicariance. The Pacific clade, subtribe Coprosminae, is widespread around the margins of the South Pacific and also occurs on most of the high islands. Distributions of the main clades in the subtribe are mapped here and are shown to be repeated in other groups. The distribution patterns also coincide with features of regional geology. Large-scale volcanism has persisted in the central Pacific region since at least the Jurassic. At that time, the oldest of the Pacific large igneous provinces, the Shatsky Rise, began to be erupted in the region now occupied by French Polynesia. Large-scale volcanism in the central Pacific continued through the Cretaceous and the Cenozoic. The persistent volcanism, along with details of the clade distributions, both suggest that the Coprosminae have persisted in the central Pacific by survival of metapopulations on individually ephemeral islands. It is also likely that vicariance of metapopulations has also taken place, mediated by processes such as the subsidence of the Pacific seafloor by 1000s of metres, and rifting of active arcs by transform faults. It is sometimes argued that a vicariance origin is unlikely for groups on young, oceanic islands that have never been connected, but metapopulation vicariance does not require physical contact between islands.

SB16047  Accepted 16 March 2017

© CSIRO 2017