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What explains high plant richness in East Asia? Time and diversification in the tribe Lysimachieae (Primulaceae)



What causes the disparity in biodiversity among regions is a fundamental question in biogeography, ecology, and evolutionary biology. Evolutionary and biogeographic processes (speciation, extinction, dispersal) directly determine species richness patterns, and can be studied using integrative phylogenetic approaches. However, the strikingly high richness of East Asia relative to other Northern Hemisphere regions remains poorly understood from this perspective. Here, for the first time, we test two general hypotheses (older colonization time, faster diversification rate) to explain this pattern, using the plant tribe Lysimachieae (Primulaceae) as a model system.  We generated a new time-calibrated phylogeny for Lysimachieae (13 genes, 126 species), to estimate colonization times and diversification rates for each region and to test the relative importance of these two factors for explaining regional richness patterns.  We find that neither time nor diversification rates alone explain richness patterns among regions in Lysimachieae. Instead, a new index that combines both factors explains global richness patterns in the group and their high East Asian biodiversity.  Based on our results from Lysimachieae, we suggest that the high richness of plants in East Asia may be explained by a combination of older colonization times and faster diversification rates in this region.



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