Reconstructing the origin and evolution of land plants and their algal relatives is a fundamental problem in plant phylogenetics, and is essential for understanding how critical adaptations arose, including the embryo, vascular tissue, seeds, and flowers. Despite advances in molecular systematics, some hypotheses of relationships remain weakly resolved. Inferring deep phylogenies with bouts of rapid diversification can be problematic; however, genome-scale data should significantly increase the number of informative characters for analyses. Recent phylogenomic reconstructions focused on the major divergences of plants have resulted in promising but inconsistent results. One limitation is sparse taxon sampling, likely resulting from the difficulty and cost of data generation. To address this limitation, transcriptome data for 92 streptophyte taxa were generated and analyzed along with 11 published plant genome sequences. Phylogenetic reconstructions were conducted using up to 852 nuclear genes and 1,701,170 aligned sites. Sixty-nine analyses were performed to test the robustness of phylogenetic inferences to permutations of the data matrix or to phylogenetic method, including supermatrix, supertree, and coalescent-based approaches, maximum-likelihood and Bayesian methods, partitioned and unpartitioned analyses, and amino acid versus DNA alignments. Among other results, we find robust support for a sister-group relationship between land plants and one group of streptophyte green algae, the Zygnematophyceae. Strong and robust support for a clade comprising liverworts and mosses is inconsistent with a widely accepted view of early land plant evolution, and suggests that phylogenetic hypotheses used to understand the evolution of fundamental plant traits should be reevaluated.
The plant hormone auxin is a conserved regulator of development which has been implicated in the generation of morphological novelty. PIN-FORMED1 (PIN) auxin efflux carriers are central to auxin function by regulating its distribution. PIN family members have divergent structures and cellular localizations, but the origin and evolutionary significance of this variation is unresolved. To characterize PIN family evolution, we have undertaken phylogenetic and structural analyses with a massive increase in taxon sampling over previous studies. Our phylogeny shows that following the divergence of the bryophyte and lycophyte lineages, two deep duplication events gave rise to three distinct lineages of PIN proteins in euphyllophytes. Subsequent independent radiations within each of these lineages were taxonomically asymmetric, giving rise to at least 21 clades of PIN proteins, of which 15 are revealed here for the first time. Although most PIN protein clades share a conserved canonical structure with a modular central loop domain, a small number of noncanonical clades dispersed across the phylogeny have highly divergent protein structure. We propose that PIN proteins underwent sub- and neofunctionalization with substantial modification to protein structure throughout plant evolution. Our results have important implications for plant evolution as they suggest that structurally divergent PIN proteins that arose in paralogous radiations contributed to the convergent evolution of organ systems in different land plant lineages.
Ferns are well known for their shade-dwelling habits. Their ability to thrive under low-light conditions has been linked to the evolution of a novel chimeric photoreceptor--neochrome--that fuses red-sensing phytochrome and blue-sensing phototropin modules into a single gene, thereby optimizing phototropic responses. Despite being implicated in facilitating the diversification of modern ferns, the origin of neochrome has remained a mystery. We present evidence for neochrome in hornworts (a bryophyte lineage) and demonstrate that ferns acquired neochrome from hornworts via horizontal gene transfer (HGT). Fern neochromes are nested within hornwort neochromes in our large-scale phylogenetic reconstructions of phototropin and phytochrome gene families. Divergence date estimates further support the HGT hypothesis, with fern and hornwort neochromes diverging 179 Mya, long after the split between the two plant lineages (at least 400 Mya). By analyzing the draft genome of the hornwort Anthoceros punctatus, we also discovered a previously unidentified phototropin gene that likely represents the ancestral lineage of the neochrome phototropin module. Thus, a neochrome originating in hornworts was transferred horizontally to ferns, where it may have played a significant role in the diversification of modern ferns.
It is commonly believed that gene duplications provide the raw material for morphological evolution. Both the number of genes and size of gene families have increased during the diversification of land plants. Several small proteins that regulate transcription factors have recently been identified in plants, including the LITTLE ZIPPER (ZPR) proteins. ZPRs are post-translational negative regulators, via heterodimerization, of class III Homeodomain Leucine Zipper (C3HDZ) proteins that play a key role in directing plant form and growth. We show that ZPR genes originated as a duplication of a C3HDZ transcription factor paralog in the common ancestor of euphyllophytes (ferns and seed plants). The ZPRs evolved by degenerative mutations resulting in loss all of the C3HDZ functional domains, except the leucine zipper that modulates dimerization. ZPRs represent a novel regulatory module of the C3HDZ network unique to the euphyllophyte lineage, and their origin correlates to a period of rapid morphological changes and increased complexity in land plants. The origin of the ZPRs illustrates the significance of gene duplications in creating developmental complexity during land plant evolution that likely led to morphological evolution.
Ferns are the only major lineage of vascular plants not represented by a sequenced nuclear genome. This lack of genome sequence information significantly impedes our ability to understand and reconstruct genome evolution not only in ferns, but across all land plants. Azolla and Ceratopteris are ideal and complementary candidates to be the first ferns to have their nuclear genomes sequenced. They differ dramatically in genome size, life history, and habit, and thus represent the immense diversity of extant ferns. Together, this pair of genomes will facilitate myriad large-scale comparative analyses across ferns and all land plants. Here we review the unique biological characteristics of ferns and describe a number of outstanding questions in plant biology that will benefit from the addition of ferns to the set of taxa with sequenced nuclear genomes. We explain why the fern clade is pivotal for understanding genome evolution across land plants, and we provide a rationale for how knowledge of fern genomes will enable progress in research beyond the ferns themselves.
Background and Aims Patterns of morphological evolution at levels above family rank remain underexplored in the ferns. The present study seeks to address this gap through analysis of 79 morphological characters for 81 taxa, including representatives of all ten families of eupolypod II ferns. Recent molecular phylogenetic studies demonstrate that the evolution of the large eupolypod II clade (which includes nearly one-third of extant fern species) features unexpected patterns. The traditional athyrioid ferns are scattered across the phylogeny despite their apparent morphological cohesiveness, and mixed among these seemingly conservative taxa are morphologically dissimilar groups that lack any obvious features uniting them with their relatives. Maximum-likelihood and maximum-parsimony character optimizations are used to determine characters that unite the seemingly disparate groups, and to test whether the polyphyly of the traditional athyrioid ferns is due to evolutionary stasis (symplesiomorphy) or convergent evolution. The major events in eupolypod II character evolution are reviewed, and character and character state concepts are reappraised, as a basis for further inquiries into fern morphology. Methods Characters were scored from the literature, live plants and herbarium specimens, and optimized using maximum-parsimony and maximum-likelihood, onto a highly supported topology derived from maximum-likelihood and Bayesian analysis of molecular data. Phylogenetic signal of characters were tested for using randomization methods and fitdiscrete. Key Results The majority of character state changes within the eupolypod II phylogeny occur at the family level or above. Relative branch lengths for the morphological data resemble those from molecular data and fit an ancient rapid radiation model (long branches subtended by very short backbone internodes), with few characters uniting the morphologically disparate clades. The traditional athyrioid ferns were circumscribed based upon a combination of symplesiomorphic and homoplastic characters. Petiole vasculature consisting of two bundles is ancestral for eupolypods II and a synapomorphy for eupolypods II under deltran optimization. Sori restricted to one side of the vein defines the recently recognized clade comprising Rhachidosoraceae through Aspleniaceae, and sori present on both sides of the vein is a synapomorphy for the Athyriaceae sensu stricto. The results indicate that a chromosome base number of x =41 is synapomorphic for all eupolypods, a clade that includes over two-thirds of extant fern species. Conclusions The integrated approach synthesizes morphological studies with current phylogenetic hypotheses and provides explicit statements of character evolution in the eupolypod II fern families. Strong character support is found for previously recognized clades, whereas few characters support previously unrecognized clades. Sorus position appears to be less complicated than previously hypothesized, and linear sori restricted to one side of the vein support the clade comprising Aspleniaceae, Diplaziopsidaceae, Hemidictyaceae and Rachidosoraceae - a lineage only recently identified. Despite x =41 being a frequent number among extant species, to our knowledge it has not previously been demonstrated as the ancestral state. This is the first synapomorphy proposed for the eupolypod clade, a lineage comprising 67 % of extant fern species. This study provides some of the first hypotheses of character evolution at the family level and above in light of recent phylogenetic results, and promotes further study in an area that remains open for original observation.
Molecular evolutionary rate heterogeneity-the violation of a molecular clock-is a prominent feature of many phylogenetic data sets. It has particular importance to systematists not only because of its biological implications, but also for its practical effects on our ability to infer and date evolutionary events. Here we show, using both maximum likelihood and Bayesian approaches, that a remarkably strong increase in substitution rate in the vittarioid ferns is consistent across the nuclear and plastid genomes. Contrary to some expectations, this rate increase is not due to selective forces acting at the protein level on our focal loci. The vittarioids bear no signature of the change in the relative strengths of selection and drift that one would expect if the rate increase was caused by altered post-mutation fixation rates. Instead, the substitution rate increase appears to stem from an elevated supply of mutations, perhaps limited to the vittarioid ancestral branch. This generalized rate increase is accompanied by extensive fine-scale heterogeneity in rates across loci, genomes, and taxa. Our analyses demonstrate the effectiveness and flexibility of trait-free investigations of rate heterogeneity within a model-selection framework, emphasize the importance of explicit tests for signatures of selection prior to invoking selection-related or demography-based explanations for patterns of rate variation, and illustrate some unexpected nuances in the behavior of relaxed clock methods for modeling rate heterogeneity, with implications for our ability to confidently date divergence events. In addition, our data provide strong support for the monophyly of Adiantum, and for the position of Calciphilopteris in the cheilanthoid ferns, two relationships for which convincing support was previously lacking. [Adiantum; Calciphilopteris; codon models; divergence time dating; local clocks; model selection; molecular clock; mutation rate; nucleotide substitution rate; Pteridaceae; rate heterogeneity; relaxed clocks; trigenomic analyses.].
Molecular phylogenetic investigations have revolutionized our understanding of the evolutionary history of ferns-the second-most species-rich major group of vascular plants, and the sister clade to seed plants. The general absence of genomic resources available for this important group of plants, however, has resulted in the strong dependence of these studies on plastid data; nuclear or mitochondrial data have been rarely used. In this study, we utilize transcriptome data to design primers for nuclear markers for use in studies of fern evolutionary biology, and demonstrate the utility of these markers across the largest order of ferns, the Polypodiales.
Polyploidy, the doubling of genomic content, is a widespread feature, especially among plants, yet its macroevolutionary impacts are contentious. Traditionally, polyploidy has been considered an evolutionary dead end, whereas recent genomic studies suggest that polyploidy has been a key driver of macroevolutionary success. We examined the consequences of polyploidy on the time scale of genera across a diverse set of vascular plants, encompassing hundreds of inferred polyploidization events. Likelihood-based analyses indicate that polyploids generally exhibit lower speciation rates and higher extinction rates than diploids, providing the first quantitative corroboration of the dead-end hypothesis. The increased speciation rates of diploids can, in part, be ascribed to their capacity to speciate via polyploidy. Only particularly fit lineages of polyploids may persist to enjoy longer-term evolutionary success.
DNA barcoding will revolutionize our understanding of fern ecology, most especially because the accurate identification of the independent but cryptic gametophyte phase of the ferns life history--an endeavor previously impossible--will finally be feasible. In this study, we assess the discriminatory power of the core plant DNA barcode (rbcL and matK), as well as alternatively proposed fern barcodes (trnH-psbA and trnL-F), across all major fern lineages. We also present plastid barcode data for two genera in the hyperdiverse polypod clade--Deparia (Woodsiaceae) and the Cheilanthes marginata group (currently being segregated as a new genus of Pteridaceae)--to further evaluate the resolving power of these loci.
Using cheilanthoid ferns, we provide an example of how DNA barcoding approaches can be useful to the horticultural community for keeping plants in the trade accurately identified. We use plastid rbcL, atpA, and trnG-R sequence data to demonstrate that a fern marketed as Cheilanthes wrightii (endemic to the southwestern USA and northern Mexico) in the horticultural trade is, in fact, Cheilanthes distans (endemic to Australia and adjacent islands). Public and private (accessible with permission) databases contain a wealth of DNA sequence data that are linked to vouchered plant material. These data have uses beyond those for which they were originally generated, and they provide an important resource for fostering collaborations between the academic and horticultural communities. We strongly advocate the barcoding approach as a valuable new technology available to the horticulture industry to help correct plant identification errors in the international trade.
Not all ferns grow in moist, shaded habitats; some lineages thrive in exposed, seasonally dry environments. Notholaenids are a clade of xeric-adapted ferns commonly characterized by the presence of a waxy exudate, called farina, on the undersides of their leaves. Although some other lineages of cheilanthoid ferns also have farinose sporophytes, previous studies suggested that notholaenids are unique in also producing farina on their gametophytes. For this reason, consistent farina expression across life cycle phases has been proposed as a potential synapomorphy for the genus Notholaena. Recent phylogenetic studies have shown two species with nonfarinose sporophytes to be nested within Notholaena, with a third nonfarinose species well supported as sister to all other notholaenids. This finding raises the question: are the gametophytes of these three species farinose like those of their close relatives, or are they glabrous, consistent with their sporophytes?
Backbone relationships within the large eupolypod II clade, which includes nearly a third of extant fern species, have resisted elucidation by both molecular and morphological data. Earlier studies suggest that much of the phylogenetic intractability of this group is due to three factors: (i) a long root that reduces apparent levels of support in the ingroup; (ii) long ingroup branches subtended by a series of very short backbone internodes (the "ancient rapid radiation" model); and (iii) significantly heterogeneous lineage-specific rates of substitution. To resolve the eupolypod II phylogeny, with a particular emphasis on the backbone internodes, we assembled a data set of five plastid loci (atpA, atpB, matK, rbcL, and trnG-R) from a sample of 81 accessions selected to capture the deepest divergences in the clade. We then evaluated our phylogenetic hypothesis against potential confounding factors, including those induced by rooting, ancient rapid radiation, rate heterogeneity, and the Bayesian star-tree paradox artifact. While the strong support we inferred for the backbone relationships proved robust to these potential problems, their investigation revealed unexpected model-mediated impacts of outgroup composition, divergent effects of methods for countering the star-tree paradox artifact, and gave no support to concerns about the applicability of the unrooted model to data sets with heterogeneous lineage-specific rates of substitution. This study is among few to investigate these factors with empirical data, and the first to compare the performance of the two primary methods for overcoming the Bayesian star-tree paradox artifact. Among the significant phylogenetic results is the near-complete support along the eupolypod II backbone, the demonstrated paraphyly of Woodsiaceae as currently circumscribed, and the well-supported placement of the enigmatic genera Homalosorus, Diplaziopsis, and Woodsia.
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