Constructing a broadly inclusive seed plant phylogeny

Am J Bot. 2018 Mar;105(3):302-314. doi: 10.1002/ajb2.1019. Epub 2018 Feb 14.


Premise of the study: Large phylogenies can help shed light on macroevolutionary patterns that inform our understanding of fundamental processes that shape the tree of life. These phylogenies also serve as tools that facilitate other systematic, evolutionary, and ecological analyses. Here we combine genetic data from public repositories (GenBank) with phylogenetic data (Open Tree of Life project) to construct a dated phylogeny for seed plants.

Methods: We conducted a hierarchical clustering analysis of publicly available molecular data for major clades within the Spermatophyta. We constructed phylogenies of major clades, estimated divergence times, and incorporated data from the Open Tree of Life project, resulting in a seed plant phylogeny. We estimated diversification rates, excluding those taxa without molecular data. We also summarized topological uncertainty and data overlap for each major clade.

Key results: The trees constructed for Spermatophyta consisted of 79,881 and 353,185 terminal taxa; the latter included the Open Tree of Life taxa for which we could not include molecular data from GenBank. The diversification analyses demonstrated nested patterns of rate shifts throughout the phylogeny. Data overlap and inference uncertainty show significant variation throughout and demonstrate the continued need for data collection across seed plants.

Conclusions: This study demonstrates a means for combining available resources to construct a dated phylogeny for plants. However, this approach is an early step and more developments are needed to add data, better incorporating underlying uncertainty, and improve resolution. The methods discussed here can also be applied to other major clades in the tree of life.

Keywords: GenBank; Open Tree of Life; clustering; divergence-time estimation; diversification; phylogenetic methods; phylogenetics; plant tree of life; seed plants.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Biological Evolution*
  • Classification
  • Cluster Analysis
  • Ecology
  • Phylogeny*
  • Plants / genetics*
  • Seeds*