Molecular Phylogenetic Relationships and Morphological Evolution in the Heterosporous Fern Genus Marsilea

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Abstract:

Using six plastid regions, we present a phylogeny for 26 species of the heterosporous fern genus Marsilea. Two well-supported groups within Marsilea are identified. Group I includes two subgroups, and is relatively species-poor. Species assignable to this group have glabrous leaves (although land leaves may have a few hairs), sporocarps lacking both a raphe and teeth, and share a preference for submerged conditions (i.e., they are intolerant of desiccation). Group II is relatively diverse, and its members have leaves that are pubescent, sporocarps that bear a raphe and from zero to two teeth, and the plants are often emergent at the edges of lakes and ponds. Within Group II, five subgroups receive robust support: three are predominantly African, one is New World, and one Old World. Phylogenetic assessment of morphological evolution suggests that the presence of an inferior sporocarp tooth and the place of sporocarp maturation are homoplastic characters, and are therefore of unreliable taxonomic use at an infrageneric level. In contrast, the presence of a raphe and superior sporocarp tooth are reliable synapomorphies for classification within Marsilea.
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