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J Mol Evol. 2003 Feb;56(2):223-33.

Broad-scale analysis contradicts the theory that generation time affects molecular evolutionary rates in plants.

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  • 1Department of Biology, Dalhousie University, 1355 Oxford Street, B3H 4J1, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. whitc@dal.ca


Several studies of plant taxa have concluded that generation time, including annual/perennial life history, may explain molecular evolutionary rate variation in selectively neutral DNA. Unlike in animals, there is little theoretical basis for why generation-time effects would exist in plants. Furthermore, previous reports fail to establish the generality of a generation-time effect in plants because of the small size of the datasets, a large proportion of which compared very widely divergent taxa differing in many characteristics other than generation time. Using 24 phylogenetically independent species pairs, each containing a species with an annual and a species with a perennial life history, and nine species pairs, each containing a tree species with a short and a long minimum generation time, we found no evidence that generation time is related to molecular evolutionary rate variation of the nuclear 18S ITS1 and ITS2 regions. This analysis strongly contradicts the growing belief that evolutionary rates are affected by generation time in plants. Possible reasons for the absence of generation-time effects are discussed, including an evaluation of the cell-division theory.

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