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Leaf functional traits and insular colonization: subtropical islands as a melting pot of trait diversity in a widespread plant lineage

Cite this dataset

Garcia-Verdugo, Carlos et al. (2022). Leaf functional traits and insular colonization: subtropical islands as a melting pot of trait diversity in a widespread plant lineage [Dataset]. Dryad.


Aim: One of the main goals of functional biogeography is to examine distribution patterns of trait diversity, and islands provide excellent study cases for this emerging field. We tested the hypothesis that multiple dispersals from a common mainland pool would promote functional similarity among island systems when environmental conditions are similar, but also novel phenotypic traits related to colonization history and exploitation of new habitats.

Location: Mediterranean Basin and Macaronesian islands

Methods: We used the well-known biogeographical history of a woody plant complex (Periploca laevigata s.l.) to examine trait variation and how it relates to climatic conditions of mainland and subtropical island settings. In a common garden experiment, we measured a suite of leaf physiological and anatomical traits tightly related to plant performance in 320 seedlings representing 21 populations of five sublineages: the oldest (2.6 my) island colonization (western Canary Islands) as a reference, three sublineages stemming from independent events of island colonization in the last 0.5 my from NW Africa (Cape Verde, Fuerteventura, Lanzarote), and their widespread Mediterranean mainland counterpart.

Results: We observed strong phenotypic divergence between island and mainland sublineages linked to contrasting climatic conditions. Mediterranean mainland populations displayed a very specialized leaf phenotype characteristic of arid plants (i.e. small leaves, amphistomaty, isobilateral mesophyll, high photosynthetic rates). In turn, low seasonality on islands was linked to the recurrent expression of a phenotype characterized by larger leaves and lower photosynthetic rates. Our analyses showed that the high investment in secondary compounds (i.e. tannins) on islands decouples photosynthesis from growth rates. Despite this pattern of parallel differentiation, each island sublineage displayed a distinctive phenotype, with some traits related to colonization time, which resulted in a mosaic of functional variation across island systems.

Main conclusions: Our data suggest that the studied subtropical islands promote expression of traits specific to certain sublineages and other common traits that are no untypeset proof Page 2 of 50 Journal of Biogeography longer adaptive in the original mainland pool due to Pleistocene climatic shifts. These findings ultimately extend the role of islands as biodiversity refugia and hotspots of plant functional diversity.


Leaf functional traits measured in 320 Periploca laevigata seedlings grown under common garden conditions.