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Don't be fooled: Flowers mislead traditional taxonomy
Date:3/4/2013

rue papilionate flowers, Vatairea and Vataireopsis.

To understand the taxonomy and relationships of Luetzelburgia and its relatives, Cardoso set out to examine herbarium specimens and collect new specimens from across the geographic range of the genera. One challenge: the only previous taxonomic study of Luetzelburgia was published in Russian! Once the bibliographies were translated, another challenge arose: these legume genera extend over much of South America, with specimens from very different biomes often identified as the same species in herbaria. In 15 days, Cardoso and two friends drove about 5000 miles from northeastern Argentina to the Bolivian Chiquitano dry forest and the Andean Altiplano in La Paz. This field and herbarium research confirmed two new species of Luetzelburgia in Bolivia.

Despite their striking differences in flower shape, Luetzelburgia, Sweetia, Vatairea, and Vataireopsis turned out to be close relatives. Moreover, the two genera with papilionate flowers were not each other's closest relatives. According to Cardoso, "We showed that similarity in floral morphology does not predict phylogenetic relatedness. Indeed, genera with very different flower shapes are often very closely related (Luetzelburgia and Vatairea), and genera with highly similar flowers share such similarity via convergent evolution (Vatairea and Vataireopsis)."

For these plants, other morphological characteristics may indicate relationships more reliably. "Floral traits are apparently more prone to rapid evolutionary changes in response to local ecological conditions," Cardoso said, "whereas vegetative and fruiting traits are more conserved and not readily shaped by local conditions."

Taxonomists beware: the flowers might just be fooling us.


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Contact: Richard Hund
rhund@botany.org
314-577-9557
American Journal of Botany
Source:Eurekalert  

Page: 1 2

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