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Earth - Evolution at the dry limit

Today the German Science Foundation granted 20 Collaborative Research Centers (CRC), including CRC 1211 “Earth – Evolution at the dry limit” lead by Prof. Dr. Tibor Dunai (University of Cologne). Being part of CRC 1211, the Nees institute and affiliated researchers acknowledge the funding of our project on the “Biogeographic history of plant communities”.

The flora of the Atacama Desert is surprisingly diverse - with ~ 550 species. Vegetation is largely restricted to the coastal range and the Andean foothills, which are separated by a virtually plant-free zone or absolute desert. So far remarkably young ages for the diversification of the Atacama clades were demonstrated, which is at odds with the high age that is generally proposed for the desert ecosystem as such. Overall, only few dated phylogenies are available, precluding any generalizations. Also, the spatial patterns of phytodiversity, biogeographic history and evolution of the Atacama Desert flora are largely unknown, leading us to our central question: how have plants and vegetation evolved in this environment of extreme aridity and unpredictability (driving and limiting factors).

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