Aarhus Universitets segl

Tropical Rainforest Hyperdiversity

Tropical Rainforest Hyperdiversity

Why are there so many species in tropical rainforest?

Tropical rainforests are widely regarded to harbour about half of the world's terrestrial species, despite covering less than 10% of the world's land surface. These numbers are not precise for various reasons, but it is clear that tropical rainforests are outstandingly ("hyper"-)diverse. But why is that?

A plethora of explanations has been put forward for this phenomenon, some purely ecological, but most involving some element of evolution (see figure). We are focusing on testing those evolutionary processes, using the plant Tree of Life as a framework and combining macroevolutionary with macroecological approaches.

Why are we doing this? Besides fundamental curiosity, this is quite an urgent subject. Tropical rainforests are being rapidly destroyed by human activities, making way for other land uses such as cattle grazing and oil palm plantations. There is likely only going to be a limited time window for understanding the diversity of these outstanding ecosystems. And: from an ethical point of view, ought we not not know what it is we are destroying, and how many millions of years it will likely take to grow back?

Our work on tropical rainforest hyperdiversity is currently supported by VILLUM Fonden (2019-2024, grant 00025354 "Explaining tropical rainforest hyperdiversity using the Tree of Life (TropiToL)").

Group members involved: Melanie Tietje, Lars Emil Hansen, Emil Muff Munk, Wolf Eiserhardt

Key collaborators: Bill Baker (Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew)

  • Read more: ​Eiserhardt WL, Couvreur TLP, Baker WJ (2017) Plant phylogeny as a window on the evolution of hyperdiversity in the tropical rain forest biome. New Phytologist 214, 1408–1422.