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To converge or not to converge in environmental space: testing for similar environments between analogous succulent plants of North America and Africa

Alvarado-Cárdenas, Leonardo O., Martínez-Meyer, Enrique, Feria, Teresa P., Eguiarte, Luis E., Hernández, Héctor M., Midgley, Guy, Olson, Mark E.
Annals of botany 2013 v.111 no.6 pp. 1125-1138
Asclepias, arid lands, cacti and succulents, climate, drought, edaphic factors, evolution, models, multivariate analysis, niches, physiology, rain, species diversity, temperature, Mexico, South Africa
Background and Aims Convergent evolution is invoked to explain similarity between unrelated organisms in similar environments, but most evaluations of convergence analyse similarity of organismal attributes rather than of the environment. This study focuses on the globular succulent plants of the Americas, the cacti, and their counterparts in Africa in the ice-plant, spurge and milkweed families. Though often held up as paragons of convergent morphological evolution, the environmental similarity of these plants has remained largely unexamined from a quantitative perspective. Methods Five hotspots (centres of high species diversity of globular succulents) were selected, two in Mexico and three in South Africa. Their environments were compared using niche modelling tools, randomization tests of niche similarity and multivariate analyses to test for environmental similarity. Key Results Although the sites selected have ‘similar’ but unrelated life forms, almost all our results highlighted more climate differences than similarities between the hotspots. Interprediction of niches within and between continents, a niche equivalence test, and MANOVA results showed significant differences. In contrast, a niche similarity test showed that the comparisons of Cuatrociénegas–Richtersveld, Huizache–Knersvlakte and Huizache–Richtersveld were similar. Conclusions Differences in rainfall and temperature regimes and the potential effect of edaphic factors may be involved in the differences between the hotspots. In addition, differences in structure, morphology and physiology of the globular succulents may coincide with some of the climatic dissimilarities; i.e. given convergence as the evolution of similar morphologies under similar conditions, then it may be that differing environments diagnose inconspicuous morphological differences. Moreover, although fine-scale differences between sites were found, a coarser perspective shows that these sites are clearly similar as drylands with relatively moderate drought and mild temperatures, illustrating how all studies of convergence must address the issue of how similar two entities must be before they are considered convergent.