Narrowly lanceolate leaves occur frequently in the genus Aster. It was often employed as a distinguishing character in the taxonomy of this genus. The origin of this particular leaf shape, however, has never been investigated using comparative methods. In this study, we reconstructed a comprehensive phylogeny that includes most species of Aster with narrowly lanceolate leaf. We then gathered data on riparian habitats and the presence or absence of narrowly lanceolate leaves, and investigated the evolutionary association between them in a phylogenetic context. Our analysis indicated that the species with narrowly lanceolate leaves are nested in unrelated lineages of the genus Aster, implying that they originated independently several times. Using Pagel's comparative method of discrete data, we demonstrated a significant correlation between riparian habitats and narrowly lanceolate leaves. We further inferred the sequence of transition of the two characters. This analysis indicated that the sequence of evolution of riparian habitat and narrowly lanceolate leaf form was usually uncertain, but some positive results showed that the occurrence of riparian habitats may not precede the evolution of narrowly lanceolate leaf form. This study provided new insights into the adaptive evolution in a mega-diverse family. In addition, Aster tonglingensis, an unexpected new species with narrowly lanceolate leaves, was discovered and established based on the evidence from morphology, micromorphology and molecular phylogeny. © Copyright 2019 Zhang et al.
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