J Syst Evol

• Research Article •    

Spatial phylogenetics of grasses in the Southern Cone provides insights into ecology and evolution of the family in South America

Lone Aagesen1*, Diego L. Salariato1, María A. Scataglini1, Juan M. Acosta1, Silvia S. Denham2, and Carolina Delfini1   

  1. 1 Instituto de Botánica Darwinion(IBODA, CONICET‐ANCEFN), Casilla de Correo 22, San Isidro B1642 HYD, Buenos Aires, Argentina;
    2 Laboratorio de Investigaciones en Biotecnología Sustentable(LIBioS), Departamento de Ciencia y Tecnología, Universidad Nacional de Quilmes, Bernal B1876 BXD, Buenos Aires, Argentina
    *Author for correspondence. E-mail:laagesen@darwin.edu.ar
  • Received:2023-09-29 Accepted:2024-02-07 Online:2024-03-17

Abstract: In this study, we explored the distributions of grass genera in the Southern Cone (SC) of South America, applying several phylogenetic diversity (PD) metrics and randomization tests. Grasses appear to have been present in South America since their early evolution as tropical understory species more than 60 Ma. During the course of evolution, grasses have adapted to all terrestrial biomes and become one of the most successful plant families on earth. At present, the SC contains nearly all terrestrial biomes and a wide range of humid to arid ecoregions. Analyzing 126.514 point occurrences and four plastid markers for 148 genera (91% of the native grass genera), we found that tropical humid regions hold the highest PD, with no observed bias in branch lengths. These results indicate that niche conservatism dominates the diversity pattern of grasses in the SC. We found significantly low PD in the Dry Chaco and in the Patagonian Steppe, which suggest ecological filtering in both warm and cold arid regions. The Patagonian Steppe also holds significantly longer branches than expected by chance, as the native grass flora is mainly composed of distantly related Pooideae genera with a northern hemisphere origin. Short branches are found in the Uruguayan Savanna, suggesting that these grasslands could be a cradle for grass diversity within the SC. The dated phylogeny supported the current view of a relatively recent evolution of the family within the SC, with most diversification taking place from the middle Miocene and onwards.

Key words: biodiversity, biogeography, phylogenetic diversity, Poaceae, South America, Southern Cone