Environmental and evolutionary drivers of diversity patterns in the tea family (Theaceae s.s.) across China

Subtropical forest is recognized as an important global vegetation type with high levels of plant species richness. However, the mechanisms underlying its diversity remain poorly understood. Here, we assessed the roles of environmental drivers and evolutionary dynamics (time‐for‐speciation and diversification rate) in shaping species richness patterns across China for a major subtropical plant group, the tea family (Theaceae s.s.) (145 species), at several taxonomic scales. To this end, we assessed the relationships between species richness, key environmental variables (minimum temperature of the coldest month, mean annual precipitation, soil pH), and phylogenetic assemblage structure (net related index) by using non‐spatial and spatial linear models. We found that species richness is significantly related to environmental variables, especially soil pH, which is negatively related to species richness both across the whole family and within the major tribe Theeae (116 species). Family‐level species richness is unrelated to phylogenetic structure, whereas species richness in tribe Theeae was related to phylogenetic structure with U‐shaped relationship, a more complex relation than predicted by the time‐for‐speciation or diversification rate hypotheses. Overall, these results suggest that both environmental and evolutionary factors play important roles in shaping species richness patterns within this subtropical plant family across China, with the latter mainly important at fine taxonomic scales. Most surprisingly, our findings show that soils can play a key role in shaping macro‐scale diversity patterns, contrary to often‐stated assumptions.

Mide Rao, Manuel J. Steinbauer, Xiaoguo Xiang, Minggang Zhang, Xiangcheng Mi, Jintun Zhang, Keping Ma, & Jens‐Christian Svenning
Ecology and Evolution