Australia’s Great Sandy Region is of international significance containing two World Heritage areas and patches of rainforest growing on white sand. Previous broad-scale analysis found the Great Sandy biogeographic subregion contained a significantly more phylogenetically even subset of species than expected by chance contrasting with rainforest on white sand in Peru. This study aimed to test the patterns of rainforest diversity and relatedness at a finer scale and to investigate why we may find different patterns of phylogenetic evenness compared with rainforests on white sands in other parts of the world. This study focussed on rainforest sites within the Great Sandy and surrounding areas in South East Queensland (SEQ), Australia. We undertook field collections, expanded our three-marker DNA barcode library of SEQ rainforest plants and updated the phylogeny to 95% of the SEQ rainforest flora. We sampled species composition of rainforest in fixed area plots from 100 sites. We calculated phylogenetic diversity (PD) measures as well as species richness (SR) for each rainforest community. These combined with site variables such as geology, were used to evaluate patterns and relatedness. We found that many rainforest communities in the Great Sandy area were significantly phylogenetically even at the individual site level consistent with a broader subregion analysis. Sites from adjacent areas were either not significant or were significantly phylogenetically clustered. Some results in the neighbouring areas were consistent with historic range expansions. In contrast with expectations, sites located on the oldest substrates had significantly lower phylogenetic diversity (PD). Fraser Island was once connected to mainland Australia, our results are consistent with a region geologically old enough to have continuously supported rainforest in refugia. The interface of tropical and temperate floras in part also explains the significant phylogenetic evenness and higher than expected phylogenetic diversity.
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Patterns of Phylogenetic Diversity of Subtropical Rainforest of the Great Sandy Region, Australia Indicate Long Term Climatic Refugia