Basal cactus phylogeny: Implications of <i>Pereskia</i> (Cactaceae) paraphyly for the transition to the cactus life form

TitleBasal cactus phylogeny: Implications of Pereskia (Cactaceae) paraphyly for the transition to the cactus life form
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2005
AuthorsEdwards EJ, Nyffeler R, Donoghue MJ
JournalAmerican Journal of Botany
Date Published2005 Jul

The cacti are well-known desert plants, widely recognized by their specialized growth form and essentially leafless condition. Pereskia, a group of 17 species with regular leaf development and function, is generally viewed as representing the “ancestral cactus,” although its placement within Cactaceae has remained uncertain. Here we present a new hypothesis of phylogenetic relationships at the base of the Cactaceae, inferred from DNA sequence data from five gene regions representing all three plant genomes. Our data support a basal split in Cactaceae between a clade of eight Pereskia species, centered around the Caribbean basin, and all other cacti. Two other Pereskia clades, distributed mostly in the southern half of South America, are part of a major clade comprising Maihuenia plus Cactoideae, and Opuntioideae. This result highlights several events in the early evolution of the cacti. First, during the transition to stem-based photosynthesis, the evolution of stem stomata and delayed bark formation preceded the evolution of the stem cortex into a specialized photosynthetic tissue system. Second, the basal split in cacti separates a northern from an initially southern cactus clade, and the major cactus lineages probably originated in southern or west-central South America.

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