Phylogenomics and evolutionary history of Oreocnide (Urticaceae) shed light on recent geological and climatic events in SE Asia


Climate change and geological events have long been known to shape biodiversity, implying that these can likewise be viewed from a biological perspective. To study whether plants can shed light on this, and how they responded to climate change there, we examined Oreocnide, a genus widely distributed in SE Asia. Based on broad geographic sampling with genomic data, we employed an integrative approach of phylogenomics, molecular dating, historical biogeography, and ecological analyses. We found that Oreocnide originated in mainland East Asia and began to diversify ∼6.06 Ma, probably in response to a distinct geographic and climatic transition in East Asia at around that time, implying that the last important geological change in mainland SE Asia might be 1 Ma older than previously suggested. Around six immigration events to the islands of Malesia followed, indicating that immigration from the mainland could be an underestimated factor in the assembly of biotic communities in the region. Two detected increases of diversification rate occurred 3.13 and 1.19 Ma, which strongly implicated climatic rather than geological changes as likely drivers of diversification, with candidates being the Pliocene intensification of the East Asian monsoons, and Pleistocene climate and sea level fluctuations. Distribution modelling indicated that Pleistocene sea level and climate fluctuations were inferred to enable inter-island dispersal followed by allopatric separation, underpinning radiation in the genus. Overall, our study, based on multiple lines of evidence, linked plant diversification to the most recent climatic and geological events in SE Asia. We highlight the importance of immigration in the assembly and diversification of the SE Asian flora, and underscore the utility of plant clades, as independent lines of evidence, for reconstructing recent climatic and geological events in the SE Asian region.

Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution