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The Canarian archipelago has been sampling biodiversity from other areas, possibly since shortly after the formation of its oldest islands in the Miocene (Fig. 12.1). The sources, and intensity, of such a prolonged sampling process have varied in different epochs, largely conditioning the origins, makeup and success of the colonising stocks (see Figs 12.1 and 12.2). Because of the bias inherent in any sampling, and the variations in extinction and colonisation rates through time and space, the current Canarian endemic flora is an imperfect representation of the historical floristic links between the archipelago and different geographic enclaves.
The diversity of island endemic floras always reminds us of the importance of these enclaves in understanding the origins and evolution of life on our planet. Islands represent roughly 5% of the Earth’s land surface, but their plant endemics have unique characteristics which have arisen (mainly) through isolation, and make up about one-quarter of all extant terrestrial plant species. Island floras are thus not only distinctive, but also strikingly prolific.
Despite centuries of botanical exploration, constant new findings remind us how much we still have to learn about plant biodiversity on islands. In some archipelagos, palaeo-botanical data convincingly show that the vegetation makeup may have been radically different barely a few thousand years ago, new insular species are frequently discovered, and some others that were feared extinct reappear.
Oceanic islands offer biologists unparalleled opportunities to study evolutionary processes and ecological phenomena. However, human activity threatens to alter or destroy many of these fragile ecosystems, with recent estimates suggesting that nearly half of the world's insular endemics are threatened with extinction. Bringing together researchers from around the world, this book illustrates how modern research methods and new concepts have challenged accepted theories and changed our understanding of island flora. Particular attention is given to the impact of molecular studies and the insights that they provide into topics such as colonisation, radiation, diversification and hybridisation. Examples are drawn from around the world, including the Hawaiian archipelago, Galapagos Islands, Madagascar and the Macronesian region. Conservation issues are also highlighted, with coverage of alien species and the role of ex situ conservation providing valuable information that will aid the formulation of management strategies and genetic rescue programmes.