Tenerife’s unique flora challenges evolutionary norms

by Lorraine Williamson
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SANTA CRUZ DE TENERIFE – Remarkable results from a study on the flora of Tenerife shed new light on the evolutionary characteristics of island flora compared to their mainland counterparts. 

An international research team led by the University of Göttingen recently conducted research on the Canary Island. The flora of Tenerife showed a remarkable diversity of forms. Functionally, however, these plants do not differ significantly from their terrestrial counterparts. What is striking is that the island flora is dominated by slow-growing, woody shrubs with a “low-risk” life strategy. 


The research team conducted extensive field research and measurements at more than 500 locations across the island. This took place from sea level to mountainous regions above 3,300 metres. They recorded around 80% of Tenerife’s native seed plants and examined eight plant traits, including leaf thickness and seed weight. 


“Previous comparisons showed that species found on islands can differ significantly from their mainland relatives,” says Professor Holger Kreft of the University of Göttingen. A well-known example of this is the Galapagos giant tortoise. The team expected similar differences between island and mainland plants, but that turned out not to be the case. 

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The results have led to an adjustment in the understanding of evolutionary adaptation on islands. The researchers were surprised by the high functional diversity among the plants on Tenerife. “At the beginning of our research, we assumed that island plants would show fundamental differences and be limited in functional diversity due to their geographic isolation,” says Dr. Paola Barajas Barbosa, first author of the study. 


These findings could be important for future studies in ecology, biogeography, and evolution. They cast doubt on the role that geographic isolation plays in shaping functional diversity, and offer a fresh look at how we view evolution. 

Why this is important for Spain and the Canary Islands 

This study could be important for conservation efforts and contribute to the sustainable development of unique ecosystems such as that of the Canary Islands. Understanding the life strategies of plants on these islands could be crucial for the conservation and restoration of these special ecosystems. 

Also read: Over 15,000 animals killed in Tenerife wild fire 

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