, Volume 20, Issue 1, pp 59-72

Species richness, endemism, and conservation of American tree ferns (Cyatheales)

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Abstract

Analyses of richness and endemism of Cyatheales (tree ferns) in tropical America were performed and evidence of a diversity gradient is presented. For this, the occurrence ranges of 239 species were plotted into a 5° × 5° grid-cell map and then analyzed using species richness and endemism indices. Here we show that species richness and endemism are not distributed randomly over the landscape, but do aggregate into defined regions of high diversity in tropical America: the northern Andes, lower Central America, upper Central America and Mexico, the Guyana Highlands, southeastern Brazil, and the Antilles. These distributional patterns are congruent with the geographical distribution of cloud forest, which in turn is determined by topography, high humidity, and persistent cloud immersion. The mountain regions of tropical America, especially the cloud forests, harbour most of the species of American Cyatheales and have high levels of habitat loss and climatic fragility. Conservation policies for Cyatheales are centred on the local use and trade of many tree fern species, but none such policies focus on cloud forest habitat loss. This makes tree ferns a critically endangered group of plants. In the face of the current environmental crisis and global climate change, the presence of Cyatheales in these regions sounds the alarm on their conservation priorities.