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Global diversity of aquatic macrophytes in freshwater

Authors:P. A. Chambers, P. Lacoul, K. J. Murphy and S. M. Thomaz

Abstract:Aquatic macrophytes are aquatic photosynthetic organisms, large enough to see with the naked eye, that actively grow permanently or periodically submerged below, floating on, or growing up through the water surface. Aquatic macrophytes are represented in seven plant divisions: Cyanobacteria, Chlorophyta, Rhodophyta, Xanthophyta, Bryophyta, Pteridophyta and Spermatophyta. Species composition and distribution of aquatic macrophytes in the more primitive divisions are less well known than for the vascular macrophytes (Pteridophyta and Spermatophyta), which are represented by 33 orders and 88 families with about 2,614 species in c. 412 genera. These c. 2,614 aquatic species of Pteridophyta and Spermatophyta evolved from land plants and represent only a small fraction (∼1%) of the total number of vascular plants. Our analysis of the numbers and distribution of vascular macrophytes showed that whilst many species have broad ranges, species diversity is highest in the Neotropics, intermediate in the Oriental, Nearctic and Afrotropics, lower in the Palearctic and Australasia, lower again in the Pacific Oceanic Islands, and lowest in the Antarctic region. About 39% of the c. 412 genera containing aquatic vascular macrophytes are endemic to a single biogeographic region, with 61–64% of all aquatic vascular plant species found in the Afrotropics and Neotropics being endemic to those regions. Aquatic macrophytes play an important role in the structure and function of aquatic ecosystems and certain macrophyte species (e.g., rice) are cultivated for human consumption, yet several of the worst invasive weeds in the world are aquatic plants. Many of the threats to fresh waters (e.g., climate change, eutrophication) will result in reduced macrophyte diversity and will, in turn, threaten the faunal diversity of aquatic ecosystems and favour the establishment of exotic species, at the expense of native species.

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