Distribution, diversity and environmental adaptation of highland papayas (Vasconcellea spp.) in tropical and subtropical America
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- Scheldeman, X., Willemen, L., Coppens d’Eeckenbrugge, G. et al. Biodivers Conserv (2007) 16: 1867. doi:10.1007/s10531-006-9086-x
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Vasconcellea species, often referred to as highland papayas, consist of a group of fruit species that are closely related to the common papaya (Carica papaya). The genus deserves special attention as a number of species show potential as raw material in the tropical fruit industry, fresh or in processed products, or as genetic resources in papaya breeding programs. Some species show a very restricted distribution and are included in the IUCN Red List. This study on Vasconcellea distribution and diversity compiled collection data from five Vasconcellea projects and retrieved data from 62 herbaria, resulting in a total of 1,553 georeferenced collection sites, in 16 countries, including all 21 currently known Vasconcellea species. Spatial analysis of species richness clearly shows that Ecuador, Colombia and Peru are areas of high Vasconcellea diversity. Combination of species occurrence data with climatic data delimitates the potential distribution of each species and allows the modeling of potential richness at continent level. Based on these modeled richness maps, Ecuador appears to be the country with the highest potential Vasconcellea diversity. Despite differences in sampling densities, its neighboring countries, Peru and Colombia, possess high modeled species richness as well. A combination of observed richness maps and modeled potential richness maps makes it possible to identify important collection gaps. A Principal Component Analysis (PCA) of climate data at the collection sites allows us to define climatic preferences and adaptability of the different Vasconcellea species and to compare them with those of the common papaya.