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Open Access Research article

Erosive processes after tectonic uplift stimulate vicariant and adaptive speciation: evolution in an Afrotemperate-endemic paper daisy genus

Joanne Bentley1*, G Anthony Verboom1 and Nicola G Bergh2

Author Affiliations

1 University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa

2 The Compton Herbarium, Kirstenbosch Research Centre, South African National Biodiversity Institute, Private Bag X7, Newlands, Cape Town, South Africa

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2014, 14:27  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-14-27

Published: 13 February 2014

Abstract

Background

The role of tectonic uplift in stimulating speciation in South Africa’s only alpine zone, the Drakensberg, has not been explicitly examined. Tectonic processes may influence speciation both through the creation of novel habitats and by physically isolating plant populations. We use the Afrotemperate endemic daisy genus Macowania to explore the timing and mode (geographic versus adaptive) of speciation in this region. Between sister species pairs we expect high morphological divergence where speciation has happened in sympatry (adaptive) while with geographic (vicariant) speciation we may expect to find less morphological divergence and a greater degree of allopatry. A dated molecular phylogenetic hypothesis for Macowania elucidates species’ relationships and is used to address the potential impact of uplift on diversification. Morphological divergence of a small sample of reproductive and vegetative characters, used as a proxy for adaptive divergence, is measured against species’ range distributions to estimate mode of speciation across two subclades in the genus.

Results

The Macowania crown age is consistent with the hypothesis of post-uplift diversification, and we find evidence for both vicariant and adaptive speciation between the two subclades within Macowania. Both subclades exhibit strong signals of range allopatry, suggesting that geographic isolation was important in speciation. One subclade, associated with dry, rocky environments at high altitudes, shows very little morphological and ecological differentiation but high range allopatry. The other subclade occupies a greater variety of habitats and exhibits far greater morphological differentiation, but contains species with overlapping distribution ranges.

Conclusions

Species in Macowania are likely to have diversified in response to tectonic uplift, and we invoke uplift and uplift-mediated erosion as the main drivers of speciation. The greater relative morphological divergence in sympatric species of Macowania indicates that speciation in the non-sympatric taxa may not have required obvious adaptive differences, implying that simple geographic isolation was the driving force for speciation (‘neutral speciation’).

Keywords:
Afrotemperate; Drakensberg; Uplift; Adaptive speciation; Vicariance; Gnaphalieae