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Molecular Markers and Concepts of Plant Evolutionary Relationships: Progress, Promise, and Future Prospects

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In just the past 20 years systematics has progressed from the sequencing of individual genes for a few taxa to routine sequencing of complete plastid and even nuclear genomes. Recent technological advances have made it possible to compile very large data sets, the analyses of which have in turn provided unprecedented insights into phylogeny and evolution. Indeed, this narrow window of a few decades will likely be viewed as a golden era in systematics. Relationships have been resolved at all taxonomic levels across all groups of photosynthetic life. In the angiosperms, problematic deep-level relationships have either been largely resolved, or will be resolved within the next several years. The same large data sets have also provided new insights into the many rapid radiations that have characterized angiosperm evolution. For example, all of the major lineages of angiosperms likely arose within a narrow window of just a few million years. At the population level, the ease of DNA sequencing has given new life to phylogeographic studies, and microsatellite analyses have become more commonplace, with a concomitant impact on conservation and population biology. With the wealth of sequence data soon to be available, we are on the cusp of assembling the first semi-comprehensive tree of life for many of the 15,000 genera of flowering plants and indeed for much of green life. Accompanying these opportunities are also enormous new computational/informatic challenges including the management and phylogenetic analysis of such large, sometimes fragmentary data sets, and visualization of trees with thousands of terminals.

Keywords: molecular systematics; phylogenomics; phylogeny; rapid radiation; supermatrices

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Department of Botany, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, USA 2: Biology Department, Oberlin College, Oberlin, OH 3: Florida Museum of Natural History, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida

Publication date: 2009-01-01

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