The tropical Andes are a biodiversity hotspot, partly due to their rich and complex floristic composition. A fundamental question regarding this outstanding biodiversity is what role the Andean orogeny has played in species diversification. Ceroxylon is a genus of endemic Andean palms that stands out in the palm family (Arecaceae) due to its adaptation to cold, mountainous environments. Here, we reconstruct the biogeography and climatic preference of this lineage to test the hypothesis that Andean uplift allowed diversification by providing suitable habitats along climatic and elevational gradients. Ancestral areas were reconstructed under a model allowing for founder-event speciation and climatic niches were inferred from climatic variables at present-day occurrences of all species. Niche evolution in a phylogenetic framework was evaluated by testing differences between the climatic niches of clades. Our analyses identified four main clades, with a general pattern of diversification through geographical colonization from south to north after the Pliocene uplift of the northern Andes. Adaptation to low temperatures was conserved at the generic level, with climatic niche differentiation among clades along elevational temperature gradients. We conclude that the Neogene Andean uplift has facilitated the diversification of this iconic plant group via opportunities for geographical migration and separation within its climatic niche.
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© 2016 The Linnean Society of London