Plant phylogeny as a window on the evolution of hyperdiversity in the tropical rainforest biome

Wolf L. Eiserhardt*, Thomas L.P. Couvreur, William J. Baker

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal/Conference contribution in journal/Contribution to newspaperReviewResearchpeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


(Table presented.). Summary: Tropical rainforest (TRF) is the most species-rich terrestrial biome on Earth, harbouring just under half of the world's plant species in c. 7% of the land surface. Phylogenetic trees provide important insights into mechanisms underpinning TRF hyperdiversity that are complementary to those obtained from the fossil record. Phylogenetic studies of TRF plant diversity have mainly focused on whether this biome is an evolutionary ‘cradle’ or ‘museum’, emphasizing speciation and extinction rates. However, other explanations, such as biome age, immigration and ecological limits, must also be considered. We present a conceptual framework for addressing the drivers of TRF diversity, and review plant studies that have tested them with phylogenetic data. Although surprisingly few in number, these studies point to old age of TRF, low extinction and high speciation rates as credible drivers of TRF hyperdiversity. There is less evidence for immigration and ecological limits, but these cannot be dismissed owing to the limited number of studies. Rapid methodological developments in DNA sequencing, macroevolutionary analysis and the integration of phylogenetics with other disciplines may improve our grasp of TRF hyperdiversity in the future. However, such advances are critically dependent on fundamental systematic research, yielding numerous, additional, well-sampled phylogenies of TRF lineages.

Original languageEnglish
JournalNew Phytologist
Pages (from-to)1408-1422
Number of pages15
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • biome evolution
  • cradle
  • extinction
  • hyperdiversity
  • museum
  • speciation
  • species richness
  • tropical rainforest


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