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Figs and the Diversity of Tropical Rainforests

This peer reviewed article from Bioscience magazine is about figs and the diversity of tropical rainforests. Ficus (Moraceae) is arguably one of the most important plant genera in lowland tropical rainforests. A brief review of tropical florulas also demonstrates that Ficus is the only ubiquitously diverse genus in lowland rainforests. Monoecious hemiepiphytic figs, constituting independent radiations in each tropical biome, make up a significant proportion of species everywhere, but in Asia dioecious figs have diversified into a variety of niches, making the assemblages of this region especially speciose. Pioneer attributes have endowed figs with tremendous evolutionary flexibility, while long-range seed dispersal ensures that a high proportion of the regional species pool is represented in local assemblages. Large numbers of Ficus species are able to coexist because many are extremely rare as a result of limited recruitment opportunities, which limits competition. They are nevertheless able to breed at low densities because they possess an efficient, long-range pollination system. These factors are likely to be important in the diversity of other plant groups in the tropics.

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