Biodiversity & Conservation

, Volume 6, Issue 3, pp 325–346 | Cite as

Geographical patterns of old and young species in African forest biota: the significance of specific montane areas as evolutionary centres

  • Jon Fjeldsaå
  • Jon C. Lovett


A widely accepted paradigm for speciation in tropical forests, the refuge theory, requires periodic habitat fragmentation driven by global climatic fluctuations to provide conditions for allopatric speciation. This implies that comparative species richness in refugia is due to loss of diverse communities in areas affected by climatic cycles. In this study we compare distribution patterns of bird and plant taxa which we consider to be of either deep phylogenetic lineages or recent radiations. It is demonstrated that lowland areas which have been postulated as Pleistocene refugia are dominated by species which represent lineages of pre-Pleistocene age. Since variations in species richness within these forest tracts reflect currently apparent environmental variables which might be considered to determine carrying capacity, we do not need to postulate that richness is the result of changes in forest cover in the past. Recently diversified taxa of plants and birds are found mainly at the periphery of the main rain forest blocks and in habitat islands outside them. Here, peak concentrations of young restricted-range species are often congruent with clusters of old and biogeographically relictual species. It is suggested that this reflects special intrinsic environmental properties of these areas, in the form of long-term environmental stability caused mainly by persistent orographic rain or mist. In this case, richness is not necessarily due to extinction outside these areas. Stability not only enables survival of relictual taxa, but also promotes morphological differentiation of radiating taxa, leading to aggregates of taxa of restricted distribution.

Tropical Africa speciation stability diversity forests 


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© Chapman and Hall 1997

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jon Fjeldsaå
    • 1
  • Jon C. Lovett
    • 2
  1. 1.Zoological MuseumCopenhagen ØDenmark
  2. 2.Department of Environmental Economics and Environmental ManagementUniversity of YorkHeslington, YorkEngland

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