Premise of the study: The cosmopolitan lycophyte family Selaginellaceae, dating back to the Late Devonian-Early Carboniferous, is notorious for its many species with a seemingly undifferentiated gross morphology. This morphological stasis has for a long time hampered our understanding of the evolutionary history of the single genus Selaginella. Here we present a large-scale phylogenetic analysis of Selaginella, and based on the resulting phylogeny, we discuss morphological evolution in the group.
Methods: We sampled about one-third of the approximately 750 recognized Selaginella species. Evolutionary relationships were inferred from both chloroplast (rbcL) and single-copy nuclear gene data (pgiC and SQD1) using a Bayesian inference approach. The morphology of the group was studied and important features mapped onto the phylogeny.
Key results: We present an overall well-supported phylogeny of Selaginella, and the phylogenetic positions of some previously problematic taxa (i.e., S. sinensis and allies) are now resolved with strong support. We show that even though the evolution of most morphological characters involves reversals and/or parallelisms, several characters are phylogenetically informative. Seven major clades are identified, which each can be uniquely diagnosed by a suite of morphological features. There is value in morphology after all!
Conclusions: Our hypothesis of the evolutionary relationships of Selaginella is well founded based on DNA sequence data, as well as morphology, and is in line with previous findings. It will serve as a firm basis for further studies on Selaginella with respect to, e.g., the poorly known alpha taxonomy, as well as evolutionary questions such as historical biogeographic reconstructions.
Keywords: SQD1; Selaginella; Selaginellaceae; lycophytes; morphology; pgiC; phylogeny; rbcL.
© 2016 Weststrand and Korall. Published by the Botanical Society of America. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License (CC-BY 4.0).