Modern Quaternary plant lineages promote diversity through facilitation of ancient Tertiary lineages

Alfonso Valiente-Banuet, Adolfo Vital Rumebe, Miguel Verdú, Ragan M. Callaway

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236 Scopus citations


One of the most important floristic sorting periods to affect modern plant communities occurred during the shift from the wet Tertiary period to the unusually dry Quaternary, when most global deserts developed. During this time, a wave of new plant species emerged, presumably in response to the new climate. Interestingly, most Tertiary species that have been tracked through the fossil record did not disappear but remained relatively abundant despite the development of a much more unfavorable climate for species adapted to moist conditions. Here we find, by integrating paleobotanical, ecological, and phylogenetic analyses, that a large number of ancient Tertiary species in Mediterranean-climate ecosystems appear to have been preserved by the facilitative or "nurse" effects of modern Quaternary species. Our results indicate that these interdependent relationships among plants have played a central role in the preservation of the global biodiversity and provided a mechanism for stabilizing selection and the conservation of ecological traits over evolutionary time scales.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)16812-16817
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number45
StatePublished - Nov 7 2006


  • Conservatism
  • Mediterranean-type ecosystems
  • Mexical shrubland
  • Phylogenetic niche
  • Plant facilitation
  • Stabilizing selection


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