Although all five of the major mediterranean-climate ecosystems (MCEs) of the world are recognized as loci of high plant species diversity and endemism, they show considerable variation in regional-scale richness. Here, we assess the role of stable Pleistocene climate and Cenozoic topography in explaining variation in regional richness of the globe's MCEs. We hypothesize that older, more climatically stable MCEs would support more species, because they have had more time for species to accumulate than MCEs that were historically subject to greater topographic upheavals and fluctuating climates.
South-western Africa (Cape), south-western Australia, California, central Chile and the eastern (Greece) and western (Spain) Mediterranean Basin.
We estimated plant diversity for each MCE as the intercepts of species–area curves that are homogeneous in slope across all regions. We used two down-scaled global circulation models of the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) to quantify climate stability by comparing the change in the location of MCEs between the LGM and present. We quantified the Cenozoic topographic stability of each MCE by comparing contemporary topographic profiles with those present in the late Oligocene and the early Pliocene.
The most diverse MCEs – Cape and Australia – had the highest Cenozoic environmental stability, and the least diverse – Chile and California – had the lowest stability.
Variation in plant diversity in MCEs is likely to be a consequence not of differences in diversification rates, but rather the persistence of numerous pre-Pliocene clades in the more stable MCEs. The extraordinary plant diversity of the Cape is a consequence of the combined effects of both mature and recent radiations, the latter associated with increased habitat heterogeneity produced by mild tectonic uplift in the Neogene.