Introduction and synthesis: plant phylogeny and the origin of major biomes

James-Edward Richardson, Quentin Cronk, R. Toby Pennington

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    68 Scopus citations

    Abstract

    Phylogenetic trees based upon DNA sequence data, when calibrated with a dimension of time, allow inference of: (i) the pattern of accumulation of lineages through time; (ii) the time of origin of monophyletic groups; (iii) when lineages arrived in different geographical areas; (iv) the time of origin of biome-specific morphologies. This gives a powerful new view of the history of biomes that in many cases is not provided by the incomplete plant fossil record. Dated plant phylogenies for angiosperm families such as Leguminoaceae (Fabaceae), Melastomataceae sensu stricto, Annonaceae and Rhamnaceae indicate that long-distance, transoceanic dispersal has played an important role in shaping their distributions, and that this can obscure any effect of tectonic history, previously assumed to have been the major cause of their biogeographic patterns. Dispersal from other continents has also been important in the assembly of the Amazonian rainforest flora and the Australian flora. Comparison of dated biogeographic patterns of plants and animals suggests that recent long-distance dispersal might be more prevalent in plants, which has major implications for community assembly and coevolution. Dated plant phylogenies also reveal the role of past environmental changes on the evolution of lineages in species-rich biomes, and show that recent Plio-Pleistocene diversification has contributed substantially to their current species richness. Because of the critical role of fossils and morphological characters in assigning ages to nodes in phylogenetic trees, future studies must include careful morphological consideration of fossils and their extant relatives in a phylogenetic context. Ideal study systems will be based upon DNA sequence data from multiple loci and multiple fossil calibrations. This allows cross-validation both of age estimates from different loci, and from different fossil calibrations. For a more complete view of biome history, future studies should emphasize full taxon sampling in ecologically important groups, and should focus on geographical areas for which few species-level phylogenies are available, such as tropical Africa and Asia. These studies are urgent because understanding the history of biomes can both inform conservation decisions, and help predict the effects of future environmental changes at a time when biodiversity is being impacted on an unprecedented scale.
    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)1455–1464
    Number of pages10
    JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
    StatePublished - 2004

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