Climatic stability recorded in speleothems may contribute to higher biodiversity in the Cape Floristic Region

Kerstin Braun, Richard M. Cowling, Miryam Bar-Matthews, Alan Matthews, Avner Ayalon, Tami Zilberman, Mark Difford, R. Lawrence Edwards, Xianglei Li, Curtis W. Marean

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Aim: The geography and genesis of diversity remain an enduring topic in ecology and evolution. Mediterranean Climate Ecosystems (MCEs), with their high plant diversities in winter rainfall climates, pose a challenge to popular hypotheses evoking high water availability and temperature as necessary for the evolution of high diversity. We test the hypothesis of environmental stability as a driver for the evolution of regional-scale floristic diversity using speleothem oxygen (δ18O) and carbon (δ13C) isotopic values as proxies for past climatic variability in the Cape Floristic Region (CFR) and other MCEs. Location: south-western Africa, California, Mediterranean Basin. Taxon: Plantae. Methods: We present new speleothem δ18O and δ13C records from a cave near Robertson in the western CFR. Stable isotope samples included in the analyses cover the time intervals between 240 and 670 ka BP with hiatuses at 630–500 ka and 360–310 ka. The dispersion of these stable isotope records is used as a measure for climatic variability. We compare our new analyses to speleothem records that cover full glacial and interglacial conditions in other MCEs (California and the Mediterranean Basin) as well as in eastern regions of the CFR. All sites used in this comparison have lower vascular plant biodiversity than the western CFR. Results: Analyses of the dispersion of the δ18O and δ13C datasets suggest that the highly diverse western CFR experienced climatic stability across several glacial–interglacial cycles, compared with the less diverse regions within and outside of the CFR. Main Conclusion: This result provides support for the hypothesis that lower extinction rates associated with Pleistocene biome stability may explain the higher diversity in the CFR relative to other MCEs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1077-1089
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Biogeography
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Authors. Journal of Biogeography published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


  • California
  • Cape Floristic Region
  • Mediterranean Basin
  • Mediterranean climate ecosystems
  • South Africa
  • carbon isotopes
  • oxygen isotopes
  • palaeoclimate
  • plant diversity
  • speleothem
  • stable isotopes


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