Biogeography and genome size evolution of the oldest extant vascular plant genus, Equisetum (Equisetaceae)
Christenhusz, Maarten J M
Chase, Mark W
Fay, Michael F
Leitch, Ilia J
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Background and Aims
Extant plant groups with a long fossil history are key elements in understanding vascular plant evolution. Horsetails (Equisetum, Equisetaceae) have a nearly continuous fossil record dating back to the Carboniferous, but their phylogenetic and biogeographic patterns are still poorly understood. We use here the most extensive phylogenetic analysis to date as a framework to evaluate their age, biogeography and genome size evolution.
DNA sequences of four plastid loci were used to estimate divergence times and investigate the biogeographic history of all extant species of Equisetum. Flow cytometry was used to study genome size evolution against the framework of phylogenetic relationships in Equisetum.
On a well-supported phylogenetic tree including all extant Equisetum species, a molecular clock calibrated with multiple fossils places the node at which the outgroup and Equisetum diverged at 343 Mya (Early Carboniferous), with the first major split among extant species occurring 170 Mya (Middle Jurassic). These dates are older than those reported in some other recent molecular clock studies but are largely in agreement with a timeline established by fossil appearance in the geological record. Representatives of evergreen subgenus Hippochaete have much larger genome sizes than those of deciduous subgenus Equisetum, despite their shared conserved chromosome number. Subgenus Paramochaete has an intermediate genome size and maintains the same number of chromosomes.
The first divergences among extant members of the genus coincided with the break-up of Pangaea and the resulting more humid, warmer climate. Subsequent tectonic activity most likely involved vicariance events that led to species divergences combined with some more recent, long-distance dispersal events. We hypothesize that differences in genome size between subgenera may be related to the number of sperm flagellae.