Unraveling the Phylogenomic Relationships of the Most Diverse African Palm Genus Raphia (Calamoideae, Arecaceae) - Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew research repository
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Unraveling the Phylogenomic Relationships of the Most Diverse African Palm Genus Raphia (Calamoideae, Arecaceae)

23 April 2020


Palms are conspicuous floristic elements across the tropics. In continental Africa, even though there are less than 70 documented species, they are omnipresent across the tropical landscape. The genus Raphia has 20 accepted species in Africa and one species endemic to the Neotropics. It is the most economically important genus of African palms with most of its species producing food and construction material. Raphia is divided into five sections based on inflorescence morphology. Nevertheless, the taxonomy of Raphia is problematic with no intra-generic phylogenetic study available. We present a phylogenetic study of the genus using a targeted exon capture approach sequencing of 56 individuals representing 18 out of the 21 species. Our results recovered five well supported clades within the genus. Three sections correspond to those based on inflorescence morphology. R. regalis is strongly supported as sister to all other Raphia species and is placed into a newly described section: Erectae. Overall, morphological based identifications agreed well with our phylogenetic analyses, with 12 species recovered as monophyletic based on our sampling. Species delimitation analyses recovered 17 or 23 species depending on the confidence level used. Species delimitation is especially problematic in the Raphiate and Temulentae sections. In addition, our clustering analysis using SNP data suggested that individual clusters matched geographic distribution. The Neotropical species R. taedigera is supported as a distinct species, rejecting the hypothesis of a recent introduction into South America. Our analyses support the hypothesis that the Raphia individuals from Madagascar are potentially a distinct species different from the widely distributed R. farinifera. In conclusion, our results support the infra generic classification of Raphia based on inflorescence morphology, which is shown to be phylogenetically useful. Classification and species delimitation within sections remains problematic even with our phylogenomic approach. Certain widely distributed species could potentially contain cryptic species. More in-depth studies should be undertaken using morphometrics, increased sampling, and more variable markers. Our study provides a robust phylogenomic framework that enables further investigation on the biogeographic history, morphological evolution, and other eco-evolutionary aspects of this charismatic, socially, and economically important palm genus.


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