A novel phylogenetic regionalization of phytogeographical zones of southern Africa reveals their hidden evolutionary affinities

Barnabas H. Daru, Michelle van der Bank, Olivier Maurin, Kowiyou Yessoufou, Hanno Schaefer, Jasper A. Slingsby, T. Jonathan Davies

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Citations (Scopus)


Aim: Although existing bioregional classification schemes often consider the compositional affinities within regional biotas, they do not typically incorporate phylogenetic information explicitly. Because phylogeny captures information on the evolutionary history of taxa, it provides a powerful tool for delineating biogeographical boundaries and for establishing relationships among them. Here, we present the first vegetation delineation of the woody flora of southern Africa based upon evolutionary relationships. Location: Southern Africa. Methods: We used a published time-calibrated phylogenetic tree for 1400 woody plant species along with their geographical distributions and a metric of phylogenetic beta diversity to generate a phylogenetic delineation of the woody vegetation of southern Africa. We then explored environmental correlates of phylogenetic turnover between them, and the evolutionary distinctiveness of the taxa within them. Results: We identified 15 phylogenetically distinct biogeographical units, here referred to as phyloregions. The largest phyloregion broadly overlaps with Savanna vegetation, while the phyloregion overlapping with the south-western portion of the Fynbos biome is the most evolutionarily distinct. Potential evapotranspiration and mean annual temperature differ significantly among phyloregions and correlate with patterns of phylogenetic beta diversity between them. Our phylogeny-based delimitation of southern Africa's woody vegetation broadly matches currently recognized phytogeographical classifications, but also highlights parts of the Namib Karoo and Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Park as distinct, but previously under-recognized biogeographical units. Main conclusions: Our analysis provides new insights into the structure and phylogenetic relationships among the woody flora of southern Africa. We show that evolutionary affinities differentiate phyloregions closely resembling existing vegetation classifications, yet also identify 'cryptic' phyloregions that are as evolutionarily distinct as some of the recognized African vegetation types.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)155-166
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Biogeography
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2016


  • Biogeographical regionalization
  • Biomes
  • Cluster analysis
  • Evolutionary distinctiveness
  • Phylogenetic beta diversity
  • Phyloregions
  • Southern Africa
  • Vegetation types
  • Woody flora

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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