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Bio-bullets

Why no native counterparts for eucalypts in southern Africa?

With so many ancestral myrtles to shape, there must be a good reason why natural selection said no to the idea of African eucalypts.

professor caricatureProf. Mumblebard claims: "Although Australia and southern Africa have similar climates and landforms, there are no counterparts in the native flora of Africa for eucalypts – a lineage dominant{njaccess 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8} in Australia. This is because of genetic limitations. Africa simply separated from Gondwana before suitable ancestors from the family Myrtaceae reached it. Owing to the historical inability of the flora of southern Africa to emulate such peculiar adaptations, the ecological niche of eucalypts has remained vacant in Africa as an accident of biogeography.”{!njaccess}… See the hidden half of Prof. Mumblebard’s claim by subscribing here{/njaccess}

logoRobin and the Honey Badger respond: "More than twenty species of the eucalypt family, Myrtaceae, are indigenous to South Africa. If conditions had been suitable for eucalypt-like plants, the ancestors of these species could have easily converged evolutionarily with eucalypts. Indeed, with such varied members of the same family available for modification by natural selection and hybridisation, it would have been a modest step for one of these original myrtles to produce eucalypt-like trees or tall shrubs capable of dominating much of southern Africa. What has been overlooked in particular is that the native myrtles of southern Africa collectively possess several of the features of eucalypts such as oily, aromatic or leathery leaves, dry capsular fruits, and an adaptability to grow tall or short depending on local conditions. Metrosideros angustifolia is a prime example. It has foliage that is flammable in the green state and dry fruits resembling diminutive versions of the capsules of eucalypts, and it regenerates more vigorously after burning than if protected from fire. The other myrtles of southern Africa show{njaccess 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8} various other adaptations shared with Australia. Although no one lineage of myrtle in southern Africa has combined all the features in the way eucalypts have, this is owing to adaptation to environmental subtleties different from those in Australia, rather than owing to phylogenetic constraints. The real reason why such plants failed to evolve in southern Africa is that the ecological opportunities here were unsuitable for eucalypts. For more details see: Orians, G. H. & Milewski, A. V. 2007. Ecology of Australia: the effects of nutrient-poor soils and intense fires. Biological Reviews 82: 393-423."{!njaccess}… Reveal the hidden half of this response by Robin and the Honey Badger by subscribing here{/njaccess}

 

Please join us here at the Bio-edge with your own comments. In the discussion below we encourage links to any evidence supporting either Prof. Mumblebard or Robin and the Honey Badger. Illustrations are welcome but please cite all sources or we may be forced under copyright to delete your comment.

Why no native counterparts for eucalypts in southern Africa?

 

 

     

 

 

 

Last modified on 16 July 2015

Comments   

0 #1 Caper 2014-02-13 13:37


Isn’t it astounding how bluegum-like Syzygium guineense barotsense can be? These photos were taken in Ndumo Game Reserve in northern KwaZulu Natal in riparian vegetation. Looks like it could have been taken somewhere in Australia, no?


Here is a closer-up view of the bluegum-like foliage of Syzygium guineense barotsense at the same location.
0 #2 Gonzales 2014-02-14 13:58
South America is like Africa because plenty of Myrtaceae but nothing for comparison of eucalyptus. But South America has some trees like Nothofagus which live also in Australia because South America was connected to Gondwana long after Africa was cut off. Is there something like eucalyptus in fossil record of South America? and if yes, what is the type of habitat in ancient times?
0 #3 Woodlover 2014-07-08 13:52
Are any of the South African eucalypt-like species good for honey production? If not, it really is a pity. Eucalyptus honey is delicious.
0 #4 BioSkeptik 2014-07-08 17:25
What you should be asking is “are there enough indigenous flowering plants to satisfy the needs of the South African bee industry”. Apparently bee farmers in the Western Cape of South Africa rely on Australian eucalypts for the majority of their bee forage needs: environment.gov.za/.../...
0 #5 Ornithophile 2014-07-09 08:18
Agreed – whatever their “alien” status, eucalypts are a necessary feature of the South African landscape. It worries me that the SA government is actively involved in removing various species of eucalypts classified as invasive (such as Eucalyptus lehmanni or Spider Gum). The beekeepers’ argument against the current policy is that the environmental benefits of eucalypt removal do not match up to the disadvantage of the potential destruction of the bee population and the associated impact on the production of the deciduous fruit industry. After all, commercial pollination is a very valuable service that beekeepers offer the South African agriculture sector: plosone.org/.../....
0 #6 Greenbrain 2014-09-25 09:35
In Lamington in Queensland, a national park guide recently observed something about buttress trees, which live in patches of rainforest there. He denied that the buttress roots function to support the trees, which are actually more protected from wind than the eucalypts (which always lack buttress roots but have deep roots instead) in the adjacent savannas. Instead, he’s come to the conclusion that the buttress roots represent radial ‘arteries’ from the shallow roots of the rainforest trees, because he’s noticed that the tree has become moribund on the side where a buttress was cut on only one side of the tree many years ago. If it’s true that none of the hundreds of eucalypts has buttress roots, do any of the syzygiums in Africa or elsewhere have buttress roots?

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