Variation in species diversity among lineages is a major feature of evolution. However, factors affecting species diversification remain largely unexplored, specially in plants.
In a recent publication (Ramírez-Barahona et al., 2016; Proc. R. Soc. B 283) we analyzed the ecological niches, body sizes and species diversity in tree ferns, the second largest group of living ferns with over 100 million years of evolutionary history. These analyses showed that increased species diversification has been mirrored by rapidly evolving ecological niches and body sizes. This highlights the relevance of ecological and morphological evolution to understanding the current patterns of plant diversity across the tropics.
A 12-meter high individual of Cyathea fulva in the cloud forests of Santiago Comaltepec, Oaxaca. (photo by S Ramírez B)
The amazing climbing tree fern Gymnosphaera scandens in the tropical rainforests of New Guinea. (photo by Marcus Lehnert)