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Mol Phylogenet Evol. 2008 May;47(2):506-22. doi: 10.1016/j.ympev.2008.02.012. Epub 2008 Mar 4.

Reticulate evolution in the natural range of the invasive wetland tree species Melaleuca quinquenervia.

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School of Botany and Zoology, The Australian National University, Canberra, ACT 0200, Australia.


The Melaleuca leucadendra complex (broad-leaf paperbarks; Myrtaceae) is a dominant component of the tropical and sub-tropical biota of Australia, particularly in wetlands of high conservation significance. In Florida and other parts of the Americas, however, one member of the group (Melaleuca quinquenervia) is a serious ecological and economic weed. Understanding the relationships and evolution of the group is integral to both conservation and biocontrol efforts. Although the complex is currently considered to include up to 14 species, there has been some concern over taxonomic boundaries within the complex because most species are circumscribed only by combinations of characters, each of which also occurs in other species. Here, DNA sequence data derived from the chloroplast and two nuclear regions are used to explore the relationships of M. quinquenervia. We find little evidence for clear species boundaries within the M. leucadendra complex in general, with regional sharing of chloroplast haplotypes across morphologically defined taxa, indicating asymmetrical introgression or retention of ancestral haplotypes (lineage sorting). Phylogenies were further confounded by the recovery of multiple copies of both nuclear regions sequenced (ITS and rpb2) from many individuals. There was no clear evidence of polyploidy or pseudogenes, but multiple duplications of rpb2 could not be ruled out. Parsimony networks of the nuclear ITS region show some clustering of haplotypes by morphospecies but there is also evidence of both hybridisation and recombination. Signals of introgression were also evident in rpb2, supporting an hypothesis of recent or ongoing gene flow between M. quinquenervia and other members of the M. leucadendra complex. Both relaxed and fixed molecular-clock dating estimate the introgression to have occurred sometime within the past seven million years (95% CI: 0.7-18). The New Caledonian population of M. quinquenervia appears to have been established by dispersal from Australia during this period. M. quinquenervia is found to have alleles closely related to multiple different morphotaxa within the M. leucadendra complex, suggesting considerable past introgression into this taxon from some other members of the M. leucadendra complex, and this has implications for biocontrol efforts. The M. leucadendra complex appears to reflect early to intermediate stages of speciation, possibly driven by different ecologies.

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