Journal: American Journal of Botany
Volume: 104
Pages: 1407-1423


Premise of the study: The Western Indian Ocean Region (WIOR) is a biodiversity hotspot providing an ideal setting for exploring the origins of insular biodiversity and dynamics of island colonization. We aimed to investigate the origins of the WIOR Psychotrieae alliance (Rubiaceae) with typically small, probably mainly bird-dispersed drupes, and the timing and direction or sequence of its colonization events in the region.

Methods: We used the program BEAST to estimate divergence times and Lagrange for biogeographic reconstruction.

Key results: The alliance has reached the WIOR at least 14 times via dispersals from Africa along with Asia and the Pacifi c mostly during the last 10 My, with at least one back-colonization to Africa. We inferred the earliest dispersal to Madagascar from the Pacific or Asia in the Miocene and numerous out-of-Madagascar dispersals to the nearby archipelagos but no dispersal out of those archipelagos. Gynochthodes with multiple fruits reached Madagascar twice from the Pacific possibly via ocean drifting. Psychotria with dry fruits (schizocarps) colonized Madagascar from the Pacific or Asia before reaching the Comoros from Madagascar possibly via wind dispersal.

Conclusions: This study reinforces the pivotal role of dispersal in shaping the WIOR biodiversity and as the critical initiating step in the generation of endemic biodiversity on its islands. The WIOR alliance shows strong Asian and Pacific affinities despite the proximity of the region to Africa. Madagascar has served as a stepping-stone for subsequent dispersal to the rest of the region. The Afro-Malagasy-Seychelles genus Craterispermum and the Malagasy Puffia may represent relictual lineages.