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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. Jul 23, 1996; 93(15): 7743–7748.

A common origin for woody Sonchus and five related genera in the Macaronesian islands: molecular evidence for extensive radiation.


Woody Sonchus and five related genera (Babcockia, Taeckholmia, Sventenia, Lactucosonchus, and Prenanthes) of the Macaronesian islands have been regarded as an outstanding example of adaptive radiation in angiosperms. Internal transcribed spacer region of the nuclear rDNA (ITS) sequences were used to demonstrate that, despite the extensive morphological and ecological diversity of the plants, the entire alliance in insular Macaronesia has a common origin. The sequence data place Lactucosonchus as sister group to the remainder of the alliance and also indicate that four related genera are in turn sister groups to subg. Dendrosonchus and Taeckholmia. This implies that the woody members of Sonchus were derived from an ancestor similar to allied genera now present on the Canary Islands. It is also evident that the alliance probably occurred in the Canary Islands during the late Miocene or early Pliocene. A rapid radiation of major lineages in the alliance is consistent with an unresolved polytomy near the base and low ITS sequence divergence. Increase of woodiness is concordant with other insular endemics and refutes the relictural nature of woody Sonchus in the Macaronesian islands.

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