Historical phytogeography of the Greater Antilles

Historical Phytogeography of the Greater Antilles
Alan Graham
Vol. 55, No. 4 (Sep. - Dec., 2003), pp. 357-383

An understanding of the phytogeographic history of a region depends upon an adequate fossil record to reveal migrational histories and the timing and direction(s) of introductions and extinctions, and to augment or circumvent undue reliance on molecular clocks. It further depends upon an accurate phylogeny of the taxa to establish real patterns of geographic affinities (phylogeography), and a relatively detailed geologic history to assess the relative roles of dispersal and vicariance in populating the islands. For the Greater Antilles new information is slowly emerging on the plant fossil record through study of new floras such as the Eocene Saramaguaca´n palynoflora from Cuba, and more is potentially available from the middle Oligocene San Sebastian megafossil flora of Puerto Rico that has not been revised since the early 1900s. Phylogeographic studies and area cladograms are still meager for plants, but data from various animal groups are providing a context for the general biotic history of the Antilles. Perhaps the area of greatest advance is being made in achieving an adequate plate tectonic model for the Caribbean region. There is now some convergence toward a mobilist model that depicts a Cretaceous volcanic island arc that extended from the Mexico/Chortis block in the north to Ecuador in the south, and gradually moved through the developing portal between North and South America to collide with the Bahamas Platform in the middle Eocene. Throughout this 70-million-year history there was an immensely complex pattern of collision/separation and submergence/emergence that provided opportunity both for vicariance and dispersal in the migration, evolution, and speciation of the flora of the Greater Antilles.
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