The occurrence of areas or centers of endemism is commonly attributed to the existence of suitable refugia in which plant lineages survived while others evolved during the late Neogene and Quaternary global cooling. In China, several studies performed since the 1980s have identified the mountains of central and southern China as the main centers of endemism in the country. A recent work studied the patterns of endemism separately for palaeoendemics and neoendemics and found that these tend to be located in different mountain ranges. Whereas, young endemics are preferably located in the mountain ranges of the eastern fringe of the Tibetan Plateau (“plant cradles”), old endemics tend to occur in the mountains of central, south central, and southeastern China (“plant museums”), although there are some exceptions. This pattern seems to be related to the different geological history of the mountain ranges. The eastern fringe of the Tibetan Plateau clearly constitutes the “evolutionary front” of China, probably due to the uninterrupted uplift of the plateau from the late Neogene. In contrast, the relative tectonic stability in central and southern China during most of the Tertiary may have maximized the persistence of relict plant lineages. These results have significant implications in the conservation of the endemic flora, which are briefly discussed.
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