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Heibl, Christoph and Renner, Susanne S. (2012): Distribution models and a dated phylogeny for Chilean Oxalis species reveal occupation of new habitats by different lineages, not rapid adaptive radiation. In: Systematic biology, Vol. 61, No. 5: pp. 823-834 [PDF, 2MB]

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Among the World’s most challenging environments for plant life is the Atacama Desert, an arid zone extending over 1300 km and from sea level to 2000/3000 m altitude along the southwestern Andean foothills. Plants there and in the adjacent Mediterranean zone exhibit striking adaptations, and we here address the question whether in a speciesrich clade such adaptations arose in parallel, at different times, or simultaneously. Answering this type of question has been a major concern of evolutionary biology over the past few years, with a growing consensus that lineages tend to be conservative in their vegetative traits and niche requirements. Combined nuclear and chloroplast DNA sequences for 112 species of Oxalidales (4900 aligned nucleotides) were used for a fossil-calibrated phylogeny that includes 43 of the 54 species of Chilean Oxalis, and species distribution models (SDMs) incorporating precipitation, temperature, and fog, and the phylogeny were used to reconstruct ancestral habitat preferences, relying on likelihood and Bayesian techniques. Since uneven collecting can reduce the power of SDMs, we compared 3 strategies to correct for collecting effort. Unexpectedly, the Oxalis flora of Chile consists of 7 distant lineages that originated at different times prior to the last Andean uplift pulse; some had features preadapting them to seasonally arid or xeric conditions. Models that incorporated fog and a “collecting activity surface” performed best and identified the Mediterranean zone as a hotspot of Oxalis species as well as lineage diversity because it harbors a mix of ancient and young groups, including insufficiently arid-adapted species. There is no evidence of rapid adaptive radiation.

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