We sought to understand the variables that limit the distribution range of a clade (here the danthonioid grasses). We tested time, area of origin, habitat suitability, disjunction width and nature, and wind direction as possible range determinants.
Global, but predominantly the Southern Hemisphere.
We mapped the range of the subfamily Danthonioideae, and used 39,000 locality records and an ensemble modelling approach to define areas with suitable danthonioid habitat. We used a well-sampled, dated phylogeny to estimate the number and direction of historical dispersal events, based on parsimony optimization. We tested for the impact of wind direction on dispersal rate using a likelihood approach, and for the effects of barrier width with a regression approach.
We found 17 geographically isolated areas with suitable habitats for danthonioids. All currently suitable Southern Hemisphere areas have been occupied, but three apparently suitable areas in the Northern Hemisphere have not. We infer that southern Africa was first occupied in the Oligocene and that dispersal to the other areas was initiated in the middle Miocene. Inferred dispersal rate was correlated with the width of the disjunctions, up to a distance of 5000 km. There was no support for wind direction having influenced differences in dispersal rate.
The current range of the Danthonioideae can be predicted ecologically (areas with suitable habitat) and historically (the width of the disjunctions separating the areas with suitable habitat and the area of origin). The direction of dispersal is dictated by the area of origin and by serendipity: there is no evidence for general patterns of dispersal, for example for dispersal occurring more frequently over land than over sea or in an easterly versus a westerly direction around the Southern Hemisphere. Thus the range and range-filling of Danthonioideae can be accounted for by surprisingly few variables: habitat suitability, distance between suitable areas, and area of origin.