Plant, lichen and fungi systematics, biogeography & conservation genetics

MacPhylo - Integrating phylogenomics, biogeographic inference and niche models of plants to disentangle the evolutionary patterns of the Macaronesian natural forests

  • FCT Project
  • National Research Project
  • 2016 to 2018

The importance of Macaronesia as a source of hidden genetic diversity is so strong that it has triggered several studies in the past years, which settled the basis for our current knowledge about biogeographical patterns in the region. However, sources floras and the available of dispersal vectors have changed dramatically. This precludes conclusions of whether the current flora is a relic of a wider past distribution or a result of long-distance dispersal events between isolated areas.

Bryophytes, the earliest group of land plants, constitute the best system to shed light about this question since they can persist in microhabitats, long after the general climate of the region has changed. Phylogenetic and population genetic analysis of Macaronesian early land plants provide evidence of cryptic speciation, connectivity among and between archipelagos and, multiple independent events of colonization from different continents [Sim-Sim2014] [Stech2008] [Vanderpoorten2008]. Yet, biogeographic studies on the Macaronesian early land plants have been mainly descriptive or focused in reconstructing patterns in one single

The main objective of MacPhylo is to unravel the origin and diversification of the Macaronesian flora, using bryophytes as a model, with an integrative approach that combines new phylogenomic methods, geological information, biogeographic dating and niche

models. For the first time, a meta-analysis will be conducted using different genus of early plants to solve the following questions:

1. Did the Macaronesian region act as glacial refugia, from which other areas where subsequently re-colonized or do patterns conform to a scenario of high divergence and isolation?

2. Can the patterns of Macaronesian flora be better explained by long-distance dispersal events or as a result of an ancient vicariance scenario?

3. Has gene flow occurred between the different islands of the Macaronesia archipelagos involving the typical scenario of colonization from the older to the newest islands or did dispersal erase any phylogeographical signal?

4. Does species exhibit different colonization routes to the Macaronesia and is it related with specific requirements (eg. does narrow endemics show single colonization events whereas widespread species show multiple ones)?


Understand the biodiversity (habitats and species) of this region and its relationship with environmental variables, will improve the awareness among the scientific community about strategies used by researchers to deal with actual problems, such as, climate changes, invasions of exotic species, diseases, coverage and frequency species changes among other threats to actual and future generations.

Funding Institution:

Science and Technology Foundation 


Universidade da Madeira, Funchal, Madeira

Netherlands Centre for Biodiversity (NCB Naturalis), Leiden, The Netherlands

Universidade de Brasília, Brasil

Universidade de La Laguna, Tenerife, Canárias

Universidade de British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada.

Universidade Técnica Particular de Loja, Loja, Equador