Tracing the migration of flowering plants from continents to islands

Study of non-endemic flowering plants in Taiwan and their distributions across Asia sheds light on potential migration routes

GBIF-mediated data resources used : 4,500,000 species occurrences
Fatsia polycarpa
臺灣八角金盤 (Fatsia polycarpa), a near threatened evergreen shrub endemic to Taiwan. Photo by yun_shuan_lee licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0.

Islands represent unique ecological niches as they are seperated from other land masses by water. Not all islands are the same, however, as the distance from an island to continents and neighboring islands affects the level of endemism and relatedness with land masses in the vicinity.

Taiwan is geologically active continental island formed 2-3 million years ago on a complex convergent boundary between four tectonic plates. In this study of Taiwanese flora, researchers used GBIF-mediated occurrences of all flowering plants in East and South Asia to categorize plants into either endemic or non-endemic, and to identify potential sources of the latter group.

Their work identified 847 endemic and 2428 non-endemic angiosperm species. Analysis of the Asian distribution of non-endemics revealed 34 terrestrial ecoregions, of which those tropical and subtropical play the most important role as sources of species richness in Taiwan.

Surprisingly, closeness was not the only factor, as a higher number of angiosperm species in Taiwan are shared with Papua New Guinea than the Philippines, the closest tropical island.

Liao C-C and Chen C-H (2017) Investigation of floristic similarities between Taiwan and terrestrial ecoregions in Asia using GBIF data. Botanical Studies. Springer Nature 58(1). Available at: