The buckwheat family Polygonaceae is a diverse group of plants and is a good model for investigating biogeography, breeding systems, coevolution with symbionts such as ants and fungi, functional trait evolution, hybridization, invasiveness, morphological plasticity, pollen morphology and wood anatomy. The main goal of this study was to obtain age estimates for Polygonaceae by calibrating a Bayesian phylogenetic analysis, using a relaxed molecular clock with fossil data. Based on the age estimates, we also develop hypotheses about the historical biogeography of the Southern Hemisphere group Muehlenbeckia. We are interested in addressing whether vicariance or dispersal could account for the diversification of Muehlenbeckia, which has a "Gondwanan" distribution. Eighty-one species of Polygonaceae were analysed with MrBayes to infer species relationships. One nuclear (nrITS) and three chloroplast markers (the trnL-trnF spacer region, matK and ndhF genes) were used. The molecular data were also analysed with Beast to estimate divergence times. Seven calibration points including fossil pollen and a leaf fossil of Muehlenbeckia were used to infer node ages. Results of the Beast analyses indicate an age of 110.9 (exponential/lognormal priors)/118.7 (uniform priors) million years (Myr) with an uncertainty interval of (90.7-125.0) Myr for the stem age of Polygonaceae. This age is older than previously thought (Maastrichtian, approximately 65.5-70.6 Myr). The estimated divergence time for Muehlenbeckia is 41.0/41.6 (39.6-47.8) Myr and its crown clade is 20.5/22.3 (14.2-33.5) Myr old. Because the breakup of Gondwana occurred from 95-30 Myr ago, diversification of Muehlenbeckia is best explained by oceanic long-distance and maybe stepping-stone dispersal rather than vicariance. This study is the first to give age estimates for clades of Polygonaceae and functions as a jumping-off point for future studies on the historical biogeography of the family. © 2013 Schuster et al.
Schuster, T. M., Setaro, S. D., & Kron, K. A. (2013). Age Estimates for the Buckwheat Family Polygonaceae Based on Sequence Data Calibrated by Fossils and with a Focus on the Amphi-Pacific Muehlenbeckia. PLoS ONE, 8(4). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0061261