J Syst Evol ›› 2016, Vol. 54 ›› Issue (6): 617-625.DOI: 10.1111/jse.12218

• Reviews • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Elevational diversity patterns as an example for evolutionary and ecological dynamics in ferns and lycophytes

Michael Kessler1, Dirk Nikolaus Karger1*, and Jürgen Kluge2   

  1. 1Department of Systematic and Evolutionary Botany, University of Zurich, Zollikerstrasse 107, CH-8008 Zurich, Switzerland
    2Department of Geography, University of Marburg, Deutschhausstrasse 10, D-35032 Marburg, Germany
  • Received:2016-04-30 Published:2016-12-15

Abstract: Evolutionary processes such as adaptation, ecological filtering, and niche conservatism involve the interaction of organisms with their environment and are thus commonly studied along environmental gradients. Elevational gradients have become among the most studied environmental gradients to understand large-scale patterns of species richness and composition because they are highly replicated with different combinations of geographical, environmental and historical factors. We here review the literature on using elevational gradients to understand evolutionary processes in ferns. Some phylogenetic studies of individual fern clades have considered elevation in the analysis or interpretation and postulated that fern diversification is linked to the colonization of mountain habitats. Other studies that have linked elevational community composition and hence ecological filtering with phylogenetic community composition and morphological traits, usually only found limited phylogenetic signal. However, these studies are ultimately only correlational, and there are few actual tests of the evolutionary mechanisms leading to these patterns. We identify a number of challenges for improving our understanding of how evolutionary and ecological processes are linked to elevational richness patterns in ferns: i) limited information on traits and their ecological relevance, ii) uncertainties on the dispersal kernels of ferns and hence the delimitation of regional species pools from which local assemblages are recruited, iii) limited genomic data to identify candidate genes under selection and hence actually document adaptation and selection, and iv) conceptual challenges in developing clear and testable hypotheses to how specific evolutionary processes can be linked to patterns in community composition and species richness.

Key words: adaptation, community composition, ecological filtering, niche conservatism, selection