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Free Content Phylogenetic relationships of the 'Briza complex' to other members of the subfamily Pooideae (Poaceae)

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Background and aims – The species of the 'Briza complex' (Pooideae, Poaceae) are distributed in South America and Eurasia. They are relatively well-studied morphologically and have a complex taxonomic history, but only a few phylogenetic studies have been conducted using molecular data. Monophyly of the complex, which is based on presence of 'brizoid' spikelets, has not been questioned and sampling strategies in previous studies have prevented assessments thereof.

Methods – We investigate phylogeny and node ages in the Briza complex and test monophyly of the group using nuclear and chloroplast data. Extensive sampling from the Briza complex and putatively related species in the subfamily Pooideae is employed.

Key results – Despite morphological similarity among species, the Briza complex is polyphyletic. Members were found in three different clades, showing the South American species, the Eurasian species and Briza humilis to be distinct groups. The South American and the Eurasian clades originated about 11 and 13 million years ago, respectively. Briza humilis diverged from Phleum (or a related genus) about 10 million years ago, whereas its crown clade is from the Pliocene-Pleistocene border. The almost simultaneous origins of these clades in the mid-Miocene coincide with temporal estimates of major diversification in grasses and formation of grassland habitats.

Conclusions – Based on our results, we support the names Chascolytrum for the South American clade and Briza for the Eurasian clade. For the Briza humilis clade, we propose the name Brizochloa. The parallel evolution of (seemingly) similar 'brizoid' spikelets in the Pooideae is surprising; however, studies have shown that floral morphology can alter dramatically by one-step mutations, causing evolutionarily distantly related species to have similar appearance. Our findings may hopefully inspire new morphological investigations of the species of the former Briza complex, as well as other poorly studied and potentially polyphyletic genera, such as Deschampsia and Echinopogon.

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Document Type: Regular Paper

Publication date: 01 July 2016

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