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Am J Bot. 2009 Feb;96(2):391-408. doi: 10.3732/ajb.0800142. Epub 2009 Jan 9.

Anatomical variation in Cactaceae and relatives: Trait lability and evolutionary innovation.

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  • 1University of Missouri-St. Louis, 1 University Boulevard, St. Louis, Missouri 63121 USA.


The cacti have undergone extensive specialization in their evolutionary history, providing an excellent system in which to address large-scale questions of morphological and physiological adaptation. Recent molecular phylogenetic studies suggest that (1) Pereskia, the leafy genus long interpreted as the sister group of all other cacti, is likely paraphyletic, and (2) Cactaceae are nested within a paraphyletic Portulacaceae as a member of the "ACPT" clade (Anacampseroteae, Cactaceae, Portulaca, and Talinum). We collected new data on the vegetative anatomy of the ACPT clade and relatives to evaluate whether patterns in the distributions of traits may provide insight into early events in the evolutionary transition to the cactus life form. Many traits had high levels of homoplasy and were mostly equivocal with regard to infraclade relationships of ACPT, although several characters do lend further support to a paraphyletic Pereskia. These include a thick stem cuticle, prominent stem mucilage cells, and hypodermal calcium oxalate druses, all of which are likely to be important traits for stem water storage and photosynthesis. We hypothesize that high lability of many putative "precursor" traits may have been critical in generating the organismal context necessary for the evolution of an efficient and integrated photosynthetic stem.

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