, Volume 10, Issue 9, pp 1555-1577

Marine macroalgal biodiversity hotspots: why is there high species richness and endemism in southern Australian marine benthic flora?

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Abstract

The southern Australian marine macroalgal flora has the highest levels of species richness and endemism of any regional macroalgal flora in the world. Analyses of species composition and distributions for the southern Australian flora have identified four different floristic elements, namely the southern Australian endemic element, the widely distributed temperate element, the tropical element and a cold water element. Within the southern Australian endemic element, four species distribution patterns are apparent, thought to largely result from the Jurassic to Oligocene fragmentation of East Gondwana, the subsequent migration of Tethyan ancestors from the west Australian coast and the later invasion of high latitude Pacific species. Climatic deterioration from the late Eocene to the present is thought responsible for the replacement of the previous tropical south coast flora by an endemic temperate flora which has subsequently diversified in response to fluctuating environmental conditions, abundant rocky substrata and substantial habitat heterogeneity. High levels of endemism are attributed to Australia's long isolation and maintained, as is the high species richness, by the lack of recent mass extinction events. The warm water Leeuwin Current has had profound influence in the region since the Eocene, flowing to disperse macroalgal species onto the south coast as well as ameliorating the local environment. It is now evident that the high species richness and endemism we now observe in the southern Australian marine macroalgal flora can be attributed to a complex interaction of biogeographical, ecological and phylogenetic processes over the last 160 million years.