The islands of Southeast Asia comprise one of the most geologically and biogeographically complex areas in the world and are a centre of exceptional floristic diversity, harbouring 45,000 species of flowering plants. Cyrtandra, with over 800 species of herbs and shrubs, is the largest genus in the family Gesneriaceae and is one of the most emblematic and species-rich genera of the Malesian rainforest understorey. The high number of species and tendency to narrow endemism make Cyrtandra an ideal genus for examining biogeographic patterns. We sampled 128 Cyrtandra taxa from key localities across Southeast Asia to evaluate the geo-temporal patterns and evolutionary dynamics of this clade. One nuclear and four chloroplast regions were used for phylogenetic reconstruction, molecular dating, and ancestral range estimation. Results from the dating analysis suggest that the great diversity of Cyrtandra seen in the Malesian region results from a recent radiation, with most speciation taking place in the last five million years. Borneo was recovered as the most likely ancestral range of the genus, with the current distribution of species resulting from a west to east migration across Malesia that corresponds with island emergence and mountain building. Lastly, our investigation into the biogeographic history of the genus indicates high levels of floristic exchange between the islands on the Sunda shelf and the important role of the Philippines as a stepping stone to Wallacea and New Guinea. These patterns underlie much of the plant diversity in the region and form an emerging paradigm in Southeast Asian plant biogeography.
A molecular phylogeny of Southeast Asian Cyrtandra (Gesneriaceae) supports an emerging paradigm for Malesian plant biogeography
Publication: Frontiers of Biogeography