Evolutionary rates analysis of Leguminosae implicates a rapid diversification of lineages during the tertiary

Syst Biol. 2005 Aug;54(4):575-94. doi: 10.1080/10635150590947131.


Tertiary macrofossils of the flowering plant family Leguminosae (legumes) were used as time constraints to estimate ages of the earliest branching clades identified in separate plastid matK and rbcL gene phylogenies. Penalized likelihood rate smoothing was performed on sets of Bayesian likelihood trees generated with the AIC-selected GTR+ Gamma +I substitution model. Unequivocal legume fossils dating from the Recent continuously back to about 56 million years ago were used to fix the family stem clade at 60 million years (Ma), and at 1-Ma intervals back to 70 Ma. Specific fossils that showed distinctive combinations of apomorphic traits were used to constrain the minimum age of 12 specific internal nodes. These constraints were placed on stem rather than respective crown clades in order to bias for younger age estimates. Regardless, the mean age of the legume crown clade differs by only 1.0 to 2.5 Ma from the fixed age of the legume stem clade. Additionally, the oldest caesalpinioid, mimosoid, and papilionoid crown clades show approximately the same age range of 39 to 59 Ma. These findings all point to a rapid family-wide diversification, and predict few if any legume fossils prior to the Cenozoic. The range of the matK substitution rate, 2.1-24.6 x 10(-10) substitutions per site per year, is higher than that of rbcL, 1.6- 8.6 x 10(-10), and is accompanied by more uniform rate variation among codon positions. The matK and rbcL substitution rates are highly correlated across the legume family. For example, both loci have the slowest substitution rates among the mimosoids and the fastest rates among the millettioid legumes. This explains why groups such as the millettioids are amenable to species-level phylogenetic analysis with these loci, whereas other legume groups are not.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Bayes Theorem
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Fabaceae / anatomy & histology*
  • Fabaceae / genetics*
  • Fossils*
  • Likelihood Functions
  • Models, Genetic
  • Phylogeny*
  • Plastids / genetics
  • Ribulose-Bisphosphate Carboxylase / genetics


  • RbcL protein, plastid
  • Ribulose-Bisphosphate Carboxylase