The Hawaiian Archipelago is a stepping stone for dispersal in the Pacific: An example from the plant genus Melicope (Rutaceae)

Danica T. Harbaugh, Warren L. Wagner, Gerard J. Allan, Elizabeth A. Zimmer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

69 Scopus citations


Aim: Pacific biogeographical patterns in the widespread plant genus Melicope J.R. Forst. & G. Forst. (Rutaceae) were examined by generating phylogenetic hypotheses based on chloroplast and nuclear ribosomal sequence data. The aims of the study were to identify the number of colonization events of Melicope to the Hawaiian Islands and to reveal the relationship of Hawaiian Melicope to the Hawaiian endemic genus Platydesma H. Mann. The ultimate goal was to determine if the Hawaiian Islands served as a source area for the colonization of Polynesia. Location: Nineteen accessions were sampled in this study, namely eight Melicope species from the Hawaiian Islands, four from the Marquesas Islands, one species each from Tahiti, Australia and Lord Howe Island, two Australian outgroups and two species of the Hawaiian endemic genus Platydesma. To place our results in a broader context, 19 sequences obtained from GenBank were included in an additional analysis, including samples from Australia, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand, Southeast Polynesia and Asia. Methods: DNA sequences were generated across 19 accessions for one nuclear ribosomal and three chloroplast gene regions. Maximum parsimony analyses were conducted on separate and combined data sets, and a maximum likelihood analysis was conducted on the combined nuclear ribosomal and chloroplast data set. A broader nuclear ribosomal maximum parsimony analysis using sequences obtained from GenBank was also performed. Geographic areas were mapped onto the combined chloroplast and nuclear ribosomal tree, as well as onto the broader tree, using the parsimony criterion to determine the dispersal patterns. Results: Phylogenetic analyses revealed that Platydesma is nested within Melicope and is sister to the Hawaiian members of Melicope. The Hawaiian Melicope + Platydesma lineage was a result of a single colonization event, probably from the Austral region. Finally, Marquesan Melicope descended from at least one, and possibly two, colonization events from the Hawaiian Islands. Main conclusions: These data demonstrate a shifting paradigm of Pacific oceanic island biogeography, in which the patterns of long-distance dispersal and colonization in the Pacific are more dynamic than previously thought, and suggest that the Hawaiian Islands may act as a stepping stone for dispersal throughout the Pacific.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)230-241
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Biogeography
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2009


  • Hawaiian Islands
  • Island biogeography
  • Long-distance dispersal
  • Melicope
  • Molecular phylogeny
  • Pacific biogeography
  • Rutaceae
  • Stepping stone

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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