Evolution and biogeographic diversification of the witch-hazel genus (Hamamelis L., Hamamelidaceae) in the Northern Hemisphere

Mol Phylogenet Evol. 2010 Aug;56(2):675-89. doi: 10.1016/j.ympev.2010.02.018. Epub 2010 Feb 18.


The evolution of the eastern Asian and eastern North American disjunction of the witch-hazel genus Hamamelis L. (Hamamelidaceae) was examined through phylogenetic and biogeographic analyses. Phylogenetic relationships of all Hamamelis species were reconstructed using parsimony and Bayesian analyses of sequence data from six plastid (trnL-F, psaA-ycf3, rps16, matK, atpB-rbcL, and psbA-trnH) and two nuclear (ITS and ETS) DNA regions. The phylogeny was then used to infer the biogeographic origin and subsequent diversification using both event-based (DIVA) and maximum likelihood (LAGRANGE) methods incorporating fossil data. The times of divergence within Hamamelis were estimated with the Bayesian approach using the program BEAST. A very low level of molecular variation was detected in both the plastid and the nuclear DNA regions within Hamamelis. The combined analyses resulted in a phylogeny of the genus with higher resolution and support values. Hamamelis was supported to be monophyletic with H. mollis from eastern China diverged first in the genus. All North American species formed a clade and was sister to the eastern Asian H. japonica. Within the North American clade, H. mexicana was sister to H. vernalis, and the recently described species H. ovalis was found to be closely related to the widespread species H. virginiana. The stem age of Hamamelis was estimated to be at the Eocene (51.2 mya, with 95% HDP: 49.0-54.6 mya), and the crown age of the genus was dated to be at the late Miocene (9.7 mya, with 95% HDP: 3.6-18.1 mya, or 10.6 mya, with 95% HDP: 4.2-19.6 mya). The disjunction between the eastern Asian and the eastern North American species was dated to be 7.1 mya (95% HDP: 3.1-13.6 mya) or 7.7 mya (95% HDP: 3.4-13.6 mya). Biogeographic analyses incorporating fossils resulted in more equally possible solutions at the stem lineage of Hamamelis than those including extant species only. Eastern Asia is inferred to be the most-likely area for the origin of Hamamelis. The current disjunction was due to the extinction in western North America and Europe from Eocene to late Miocene, and later migration from eastern Asia into North America. The Bering land bridge was hypothesized to have played an important role in the evolution of this disjunction. The current species diversity of the genus was the result of relatively recent diversification events during the late Miocene rather than long accumulation of lineages from the early Tertiary.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bayes Theorem
  • Cell Nucleus / genetics
  • DNA, Plant / genetics
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Far East
  • Geography
  • Hamamelidaceae / classification
  • Hamamelidaceae / genetics*
  • Likelihood Functions
  • Models, Genetic
  • North America
  • Phylogeny*
  • Plastids / genetics
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA


  • DNA, Plant