Evolutionary history of the angiosperm flora of China

Nature. 2018 Feb 8;554(7691):234-238. doi: 10.1038/nature25485. Epub 2018 Jan 31.


High species diversity may result from recent rapid speciation in a 'cradle' and/or the gradual accumulation and preservation of species over time in a 'museum'. China harbours nearly 10% of angiosperm species worldwide and has long been considered as both a museum, owing to the presence of many species with hypothesized ancient origins, and a cradle, as many lineages have originated as recent topographic changes and climatic shifts-such as the formation of the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau and the development of the monsoon-provided new habitats that promoted remarkable radiation. However, no detailed phylogenetic study has addressed when and how the major components of the Chinese angiosperm flora assembled to form the present-day vegetation. Here we investigate the spatio-temporal divergence patterns of the Chinese flora using a dated phylogeny of 92% of the angiosperm genera for the region, a nearly complete species-level tree comprising 26,978 species and detailed spatial distribution data. We found that 66% of the angiosperm genera in China did not originate until early in the Miocene epoch (23 million years ago (Mya)). The flora of eastern China bears a signature of older divergence (mean divergence times of 22.04-25.39 Mya), phylogenetic overdispersion (spatial co-occurrence of distant relatives) and higher phylogenetic diversity. In western China, the flora shows more recent divergence (mean divergence times of 15.29-18.86 Mya), pronounced phylogenetic clustering (co-occurrence of close relatives) and lower phylogenetic diversity. Analyses of species-level phylogenetic diversity using simulated branch lengths yielded results similar to genus-level patterns. Our analyses indicate that eastern China represents a floristic museum, and western China an evolutionary cradle, for herbaceous genera; eastern China has served as both a museum and a cradle for woody genera. These results identify areas of high species richness and phylogenetic diversity, and provide a foundation on which to build conservation efforts in China.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Biodiversity*
  • China
  • Conservation of Natural Resources / methods
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Geographic Mapping
  • Magnoliopsida / classification*
  • Phylogeny*
  • Regression Analysis
  • Spatio-Temporal Analysis