An unusually diverse genus of Collembola in the Cape Floristic Region characterised by substantial desiccation tolerance

W. P.Amy Liu, Laura M. Phillips, John S. Terblanche, Charlene Janion-Scheepers, Steven L. Chown

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Trait–environment interactions have contributed to the remarkable plant radiations in the Cape Floristic Region (CFR) of southern Africa. Whether such interactions have also resulted in the diversification of the invertebrate fauna, independently of direct associations with plants is, however, not clear. One candidate where this may be the case is the unusually diverse Collembola genus Seira. Including 89 species in the CFR, many of which are localised habitat specialists, this genus includes many species inhabiting the warm, dry fynbos shrubland—a habitat atypical of usually desiccation-sensitive Collembola. Here, we investigate whether desiccation tolerance may have contributed to the considerable diversity of Seira in the CFR. First, we demonstrate, by measuring vapour pressure deficits (VPD) of the species’ microhabitats (fynbos shrubland and moister Afrotemperate Forests), that the fynbos shrublands are dry environments (mean ± S.E. maximum VPD 5.2 ± 0.1 kPa) compared with the Afrotemperate Forest patches (0.3 ± 0.02 kPa) during the summer activity period of Seira. Then we show that Seira species living in these shrublands are more desiccation tolerant (mean ± S.E. survival time at 76% relative humidity: 74.3 ± 3.3 h) than their congeners in the cooler, moister Afrotemperate Forests (34.3 ± 2.8 h), and compared with Collembola species globally (3.7 ± 0.2 h). These results, and a previous demonstration of pronounced thermal tolerance in the fynbos shrubland species, suggest that the diversity of Seira in the CFR is at least partly due to pronounced desiccation and thermal tolerance, which has enabled species in the genus to exploit the hot and dry habitats of the CFR.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)873-885
Number of pages13
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2021


  • Arthropoda
  • Evolutionary radiation
  • Soil biology
  • Traits
  • Water balance

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