Australia is an excellent setting to explore relationships between climate change and diversification dynamics. Aridification since the Eocene has resulted in spectacular radiations within one or more Australian biomes.
Acacia is the largest plant genus on the Australian continent, with around 1000 species, and is present in all biomes.
We investigated the macroevolutionary dynamics of Acacia within climate space, by analysing phylogenetic and climatic data for 503 Acacia species to estimate a time-calibrated phylogeny, and central climatic tendencies for BioClim layers from 132,000 herbarium specimens.
Diversification rate heterogeneity, and rates of climate space exploration were tested. We inferred two diversification rate increases, both associated with significantly higher rates of climate space exploration. Observed spikes in climate disparity within the Pleistocene correspond with onset of Pleistocene glacial-interglacial cycling.
Positive time-dependency in environmental disparity applies in the basal grade of Acacia, though climate space exploration rates were lower. Incongruence between rates of climate space exploration and disparity suggests different Acacia lineages have experienced different macroevolutionary processes.
The second diversification rate increase is associated with a south-east Australian mesic lineage, suggesting adaptations to progressively aridifying environments and ability to transition into mesic environments both contributed to Acacia’s dominance across Australia.
Matt Renner from the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney presents his latest findings in the video below.