Rapid and recent origin of species richness in the Cape flora of south Africa

James E. Richardson, Frans M. Weitz, Michael F. Fay, Quentin C.B. Cronk, H. Peter Linder, G. Reeves, Mark W. Chase

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

217 Scopus citations


The Cape flora of South Africa grows in a continental area with many diverse and endemic species. We need to understand the evolutionary origins and ages of such 'hotspots' to conserve them effectively. In volcanic islands the timing of diversification can be precisely measured with potassium-argon dating. In contrast, the history of these continental species is based upon an incomplete fossil record and relatively imprecise isotopic palaeotemperature signatures. Here we use molecular phylogenetics and precise dating of two island species within the same clade as the continental taxa to show recent speciation in a species-rich genus characteristic of the Cape flora. The results indicate that diversification began approximately 7-8 Myr ago, coincident with extensive aridification caused by changes in ocean currents. The recent origin of endemic species diversity in the Cape flora shows that large continental bursts of speciation can occur rapidly over timescales comparable to those previously associated with oceanic island radiations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)181-183
Number of pages3
Issue number6843
StatePublished - Jul 12 2001
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


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