skip to main content

Title: Climatic niche comparisons of eastern North American and eastern Asian disjunct plant genera
Abstract Aim

While the floras of eastern Asia (EA) and eastern North America (ENA) share numerous genera, they have drastically different species richness. Despite an overall similarity in the quality of their temperate climates, the climate of EA is more spatially heterogeneous than that of ENA. Spatial environmental heterogeneity has been found to play a key role in influencing species richness in some regions. Here, we tested the following hypotheses: (a) EA species will occupy larger climatic niches than their ENA congeners, (b) congeners of EA‐ENA disjunct genera will occupy statistically equivalent climatic niches, and (c) congeners of EA‐ENA disjunct genera will occupy more similar climatic niches than expected by their respective physiographic context.


North America and Asia.

Time period


Major taxa studied

Seed plants.


Predictions generated by ecological niche models (ENMs) were compared for 88 species across 31 EA‐ENA disjunct genera. ENM predictions were assessed for geographic and ecological breadth. Tests for niche equivalency and similarity were performed for congeneric species pairs to determine if species of disjunct genera have experienced niche conservatism or divergence.


EA species tend to occupy greater amounts of climatic niche space than their close relatives in ENA. Over two‐thirds of the conducted niche comparisons show that EA‐ENA congeners either occupy equivalent climatic niche space within these broader climatic regimes or occupy non‐equivalent niches that are as similar as expected given their physiographic contexts.

Main conclusions

EA species tend to occupy larger climatic niches, and congeners of EA‐ENA disjunct genera tend to occupy equivalent/similar niche space within their respective distributions, with differences in occupied niches possibly due to their respective physiographic contexts, highlighting how niche‐neutral processes and niche conservatism may affect the distributions of disjunct species.

more » « less
Award ID(s):
Author(s) / Creator(s):
 ;  ;  ;  ;  ;  ;  ;  ;  
Publisher / Repository:
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Global Ecology and Biogeography
Page Range / eLocation ID:
p. 1290-1302
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract

    Nyssa(Nyssaceae, Cornales) represents a classical example of the well‐known eastern Asian–eastern North American floristic disjunction. The genus consists of three species in eastern Asia, four species in eastern North America, and one species in Central America. Species of the genus are ecologically important trees in eastern North American and eastern Asian forests. The distribution of living species and a rich fossil record of the genus make it an excellent model for understanding the origin and evolution of the eastern Asian–eastern North American floristic disjunction. However, despite the small number of species, relationships within the genus have remained unclear and have not been elucidated using a molecular approach. Here, we integrate data from 48 nuclear genes, fossils, morphology, and ecological niche to resolve species relationships, elucidate its biogeographical history, and investigate the evolution of morphology and ecological niches, aiming at a better understanding of the well‐known EA–ENA floristic disjunction. Results showed that the Central American (CAM)Nyssa talamancanawas sister to the remaining species, which were divided among three, rapidly diversified subclades. Estimated divergence times and biogeographical history suggested thatNyssahad an ancestral range in Eurasia and western North America in the late Paleocene. The rapid diversification occurred in the early Eocene, followed by multiple dispersals between and within the Erasian and North American continents. The genus experienced two major episodes of extinction in the early Oligocene and end of Neogene, respectively. The Central AmericanN. talamancanarepresents a relic lineage of the boreotropical flora in the Paleocene/Eocene boundary that once diversified in western North America. The results supported the importance of both the North Atlantic land bridge and the Bering land bridge (BLB) for the Paleogene dispersals ofNyssaand the Neogene dispersals, respectively, as well as the role of Central America as refugia of the Paleogene flora. The total‐evidence‐based dated phylogeny suggested that the pattern of macroevolution ofNyssacoincided with paleoclimatic changes. We found a number of evolutionary changes in morphology (including wood anatomy and leaf traits) and ecological niches (precipitation and temperature) between the EA–ENA disjunct, supporting the ecological selection driving trait evolutions after geographic isolation. We also demonstrated challenges in phylogenomic studies of lineages with rapid diversification histories. The concatenation of gene data can lead to inference of strongly supported relationships incongruent with the species tree. However, conflicts in gene genealogies did not seem to impose a strong effect on divergence time dating in our case. Furthermore, we demonstrated that rapid diversification events may not be recovered in the divergence time dating analysis using BEAST if critical fossil constraints of the relevant nodes are not available. Our study provides an example of complex bidirectional exchanges of plants between Eurasia and North America in the Paleogene, but “out of Asia” migrations in the Neogene, to explain the present disjunct distribution ofNyssain EA and ENA.

    more » « less
  2. Premise

    Large disjunctions in species distributions provide excellent opportunities to study processes that shape biogeographic patterns. One such disjunction is the eastern Asia–eastern North America (EA‐ENA) floristic disjunction. For many genera with this disjunction, species richness is greater in EA than in ENA; this pattern has been attributed, in part, to higher rates of molecular evolution and speciation in EA. Longer branch lengths have been found in some EA clades, relative to their ENA sister clades, suggesting that the EA lineages have evolved at a higher rate, possibly due to environmental heterogeneity, potentially contributing to the species richness anomaly.


    To evaluate whether rates of molecular evolution are elevated in EA relative to ENA, we used transcriptomes from species in 11 genera displaying this disjunction. Rates of molecular evolution were estimated for up to 385 orthologous nuclear loci per genus.


    No statistically significant differences were identified in pairwise comparisons between EA and ENA sister species, suggesting equal rates of molecular evolution for both species; the data also suggest similar selection pressures in both regions. For larger genera, evidence likewise argues against more species‐rich clades having higher molecular evolutionary rates, regardless of region. Our results suggest that genes across multiple gene ontology categories are evolving at similar rates under purifying selection in species in both regions.


    Our data support the hypothesis that greater species richness in EA than ENA is due to factors other than an overall increase in rates of molecular evolution in EA.

    more » « less
  3. Premise

    The distributions of plant clades are shaped by abiotic and biotic factors as well as historical aspects such as center of origin. Dispersals between distant areas may lead to niche evolution when lineages are established in new environments. Alternatively, dispersing lineages may exhibit niche conservatism, moving between areas with similar environmental conditions. Here we test these contrasting hypotheses in the Datureae clade (Solanaceae).


    We used maximum likelihood methods to estimate the ancestral range of Datureae along with the history of biogeographic events. We then characterized the niche of each taxon using climatic and soil variables and tested for shifts in environmental niche optima. Finally, we examined how these shifts relate to the niche breadth of taxa and clades within Datureae and the degree of overlap between them.


    Datureae originated in the Andes and subsequently expanded its range to North America and non‐Andean regions of South America. The ancestral niche, and that of mostDaturaandTrompettiaspecies, is dry, whileBrugmansiaspecies likely shifted toward a more mesic environment. Nonetheless, most Datureae present moderate to high overlap in niche breadth today.


    The expansion of Datureae into North America was associated with niche conservatism, with dispersal into similarly dry areas as occupied by the ancestral lineage. Subsequent niche evolution, including the apparent shift to a mesic niche inBrugmansia, diversified the range of habitats occupied by species in the tribe Datureae but also led to significant niche overlap among the three genera.

    more » « less
  4. Abstract

    Understanding how the climatic niche of species evolved has been a topic of high interest in current theoretical and applied macroecological studies. However, little is known regarding how species traits might influence climatic niche evolution. Here, we evaluated patterns of climatic niche evolution in turtles (tortoises and freshwater turtles) and whether species habitat (terrestrial or aquatic) influences these patterns. We used phylogenetic, climatic and distribution data for 261 species to estimate their climatic niches. Then, we compared whether niche overlap between sister species was higher than between random species pairs and evaluated whether niche optima and rates varied between aquatic and terrestrial species. Sister species had higher values of niche overlap than random species pairs, suggesting phylogenetic climatic niche conservatism in turtles. The climatic niche evolution of the group followed an Ornstein–Uhlenbeck model with different optimum values for aquatic and terrestrial species, but we did not find consistent evidence of differences in their rates of climatic niche evolution. We conclude that phylogenetic climatic niche conservatism occurs among turtle species. Furthermore, terrestrial and aquatic species occupy different climatic niches but these seem to have evolved at similar evolutionary rates, reinforcing the importance of habitat in understanding species climatic niches and their evolution.

    more » « less
  5. Abstract Aim

    Efforts to predict the responses of soil fungal communities to climate change are hindered by limited information on how fungal niches are distributed across environmental hyperspace. We predict the climate sensitivity of North American soil fungal assemblage composition by modelling the ecological niches of several thousand fungal species.


    One hundred and thirteen sites in the United States and Canada spanning all biomes except tropical rain forest.

    Major Taxa Studied


    Time Period



    We combine internal transcribed spacer (ITS) sequences from two continental‐scale sampling networks in North America and cluster them into operational taxonomic units (OTUs) at 97% similarity. Using climate and soil data, we fit ecological niche models (ENMs) based on logistic ridge regression for all OTUs present in at least 10 sites (n = 8597). To describe the compositional turnover of soil fungal assemblages over climatic gradients, we introduce a novel niche‐based metric of climate sensitivity, the Sørensen climate sensitivity index. Finally, we map climate sensitivity across North America.


    ENMs have a mean out‐of‐sample predictive accuracy of 73.8%, with temperature variables being strong predictors of fungal distributions. Soil fungal climate niches clump together across environmental space, which suggests common physiological limits and predicts abrupt changes in composition with respect to changes in climate. Soil fungi in North American climates are more likely to be limited by cold and dry conditions than by warm and wet conditions, and ectomycorrhizal fungi generally tolerate colder temperatures than saprotrophic fungi. Sørensen climate sensitivity exhibits a multimodal distribution across environmental space, with a peak in climates corresponding to boreal forests.

    Main Conclusions

    The boreal forest occupies an especially precarious region of environmental space for the composition of soil fungal assemblages in North America, as even small degrees of warming could trigger large compositional changes characterized mainly by an influx of warm‐adapted species.

    more » « less