Natural history and evolution of the Kwongan – a global biodiversity hotspot

Natural history and evolution of the Kwongan – a global biodiversity hotspot

Book Review Natural history and evolution of the Kwongan – a global biodiversity hotspot Plant Life on the Sandplains in Southwest Australia edited b...

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Book Review

Natural history and evolution of the Kwongan – a global biodiversity hotspot Plant Life on the Sandplains in Southwest Australia edited by Hans Lambers, UWA Publishing, 2014. US$69.99/£42.00/s53.00, hbk/pbk (350 pp.) ISBN-10: 1742585647

Lucas C.R. Silva Department of Land, Air, and Water Resources, University of California, Davis, CA 95616-8627, USA

The ‘Kwongan’ (or ‘Kwongkan’), a term with no etymological connections with occidental languages, was coined centuries ago by the indigenous Noongar people to define a unique ecosystem: Australia’s Biodiversity Hotspot. In the new book ‘Plant Life on the Sandplains in Southwest Australia’, edited by Hans Lambers, we discover fascinating tales in natural history, and the most comprehensive compilation of ecological research conducted in the Kwongan to date. In this book, authors specializing in different fields of research take us on a journey from Kwongan’s geological origin, to modern interactions between plants, soils, and animals (including humans), exploring fundamental links between biodiversity and ecosystem services. Although largely unknown outside of Australia, the Kwongan has been studied for decades by diverse groups of scientists. This becomes clear in the opening chapter of the book, which deals with linguistics, historical spelling, and definitions. The following chapters on biogeography, plant nutrition, and carbon and water relations, paint us a revealing picture of Kwongan’s environment, where plant life has evolved under extreme conditions on some of the most nutrient-impoverished soils of the world. Appropriately, many other chapters focus on the evolution of plants and ecological synergies, bringing new insights into symbiotic systems that contribute to terrestrial nutrient fixation, and depicting specialized strategies of endemic carnivorous and parasitic species. In that context, the description of a 2-million-year dune chronosequence in Jurien Bay, a largely unexplored relic of natural history north of Perth, captures our imagination. There, a series of dune systems deposited during various periods of high sea level since the Early Pleistocene subepoch, creates a westto-east soil age gradient that offers a unique setting to

Corresponding author: Silva, L.C.R. ([email protected]). 1360-1385/


Trends in Plant Science, November 2014, Vol. 19, No. 11

investigate associations between soil development, adaptive traits, and biogeographical patterns. The book also reveals striking similarities between the Kwongan and the Mediterranean Maquis, the Californian Chaparral, the Fynbos of South Africa, and the Brazilian Cerrado. Connections with the Cerrado, in particular, are evidenced in the ecological role played by different plant families that make the Kwongan functionally very similar to open physiognomies of central Brazil. These similarities reflect commonalities in evolutionary history that are of global importance. For example, phylogenetic associations between Australia and South America show that ancestors of hundreds of species predate the separation of both continents from Antarctica. Some of the new data presented in the book reveal that the Proteaceae family arrived in South Africa well after the separation of Gondwana. Therefore, the Kwongan provides context for comparisons of original Gondwanan families shared exclusively by Australia and South America, regions that presently display a very strong contrast in environmental conditions. Going beyond a compilation of scientific studies, the book brings a new vision for conservation, advancing the search for a unified solution for growing threats to biodiversity. In the closing chapters, critical challenges that include changes in climate and increasing pressures from urbanization and agriculture are tackled with objective strategies focusing on preservation of endangered plants and lands. These strategies represent important contributions that will certainly resonate with researchers and legislators working in Australia and elsewhere. Finally, in an epilogue on where to go next, the editor points to the importance of plant evolutionary history for explaining modern biogeographical patterns and as a framework to guide future research and conservation efforts. The book expands our understanding of the origins and functions of biodiversity, and will be of great interest to anyone curious about the natural world.