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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

A phyloclimatic study of Cyclamen

Chris Yesson and Alastair Culham*

Author Affiliations

Centre for Plant Diversity and Systematics, Plant Science Laboratories, School of Biological Sciences, The University of Reading, Reading, Berks, England RG6 6AS, UK

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2006, 6:72  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-6-72

Published: 20 September 2006

Abstract

Background

The impact of global climate change on plant distribution, speciation and extinction is of current concern. Examining species climatic preferences via bioclimatic niche modelling is a key tool to study this impact. There is an established link between bioclimatic niche models and phylogenetic diversification. A next step is to examine future distribution predictions from a phylogenetic perspective. We present such a study using Cyclamen (Myrsinaceae), a group which demonstrates morphological and phenological adaptations to its seasonal Mediterranean-type climate. How will the predicted climate change affect future distribution of this popular genus of garden plants?

Results

We demonstrate phylogenetic structure for some climatic characteristics, and show that most Cyclamen have distinct climatic niches, with the exception of several wide-ranging, geographically expansive, species. We reconstruct climate preferences for hypothetical ancestral Cyclamen. The ancestral Cyclamen lineage has a preference for the seasonal Mediterranean climate characteristic of dry summers and wet winters.

Future bioclimatic niches, based on BIOCLIM and Maxent models, are examined with reference to a future climate scenario for the 2050s. Over the next 50 years we predict a northward shift in the area of climatic suitability, with many areas of current distribution becoming climatically unsuitable. The area of climatic suitability for every Cyclamen species is predicted to decrease. For many species, there may be no areas with a suitable climate regardless of dispersal ability, these species are considered to be at high risk of extinction. This risk is examined from a phylogenetic perspective.

Conclusion

Examining bioclimatic niches from a phylogenetic perspective permits novel interpretations of these models. In particular, reconstruction of ancestral niches can provide testable hypothesis about the historical development of lineages. In the future we can expect a northwards shift in climatic suitability for the genus Cyclamen. If this proves to be the case then dispersal is the best chance of survival, which seems highly unlikely for ant-dispersed Cyclamen. Human-assisted establishment of Cyclamen species well outside their native ranges offers hope and could provide the only means of dispersal to potentially suitable future environments. Even without human intervention the phylogenetic perspective demonstrates that major lineages could survive climate change even if many species are lost.