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Caribbean Island Asteraceae: Systematics, Molecules, and Conservation on a Biodiversity Hotspot


The Caribbean Islands are one of the ten insular biodiversity hotspots that are defined based on endemicity, massive habitat loss and vulnerability to extinction. Asteraceae genera endemic to islands have provided well known examples of plant radiation worldwide and illustrate the importance of these insular systems for evolutionary and conservation studies. A review of known patterns of taxonomic diversity and molecular cladistics is provided for Asteraceae genera and species endemic in the Caribbean Island biodiversity hotspot. We found that when compared with other island systems worldwide the Caribbean Islands have the highest number of endemic genera (41), have endemic genera in the highest number of tribes, and harbor the only Asteraceae tribe endemic to an island system, the Feddeeae which is restricted to Cuba. These unique patterns identify the Caribbean Islands as the most important insular area of endemism for this major plant family. Molecular cladistic studies are limited to only seven species in seven endemic genera and six endemic species in five non-endemic genera. These few studies are however relevant as: (1) they confirm the tribal status of the Feddeeae, (2) suggest colonization events from the highlands of Cuba toward low elevation and geologically recent areas of the Bahamas and South Florida, (3) provide evidence for biogeographical links to remote regions of the Pacific Basin, and (4) identify sister relationships with continental taxa, mostly from North America.