Freezing and water availability structure the evolutionary diversity of trees across the Americas

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Science Advances  06 May 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 19, eaaz5373
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aaz5373


The historical course of evolutionary diversification shapes the current distribution of biodiversity, but the main forces constraining diversification are still a subject of debate. We unveil the evolutionary structure of tree species assemblages across the Americas to assess whether an inability to move or an inability to evolve is the predominant constraint in plant diversification and biogeography. We find a fundamental divide in tree lineage composition between tropical and extratropical environments, defined by the absence versus presence of freezing temperatures. Within the Neotropics, we uncover a further evolutionary split between moist and dry forests. Our results demonstrate that American tree lineages tend to retain their ancestral environmental relationships and that phylogenetic niche conservatism is the primary force structuring the distribution of tree biodiversity. Our study establishes the pervasive importance of niche conservatism to community assembly even at intercontinental scales.

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