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Mol Phylogenet Evol. 2011 Dec;61(3):933-43. doi: 10.1016/j.ympev.2011.08.018. Epub 2011 Sep 3.

A multilocus phylogeny of the desmid genus Micrasterias (Streptophyta): evidence for the accelerated rate of morphological evolution in protists.

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Department of Botany, Faculty of Science, Charles University in Prague, Benátská 2, Praha 2 CZ-12801, Czech Republic.


Micrasterias, the name of which is derived from the Greek for 'little star', comprises possibly the most spectacularly shaped desmids (Desmidiales, Streptophyta). Presently, the genus Micrasterias includes about 60 traditional species, the majority of which were described in the early 19th century. We used a comprehensive multigene dataset (including SSU rDNA, psaA, and coxIII loci) of 34 Micrasterias taxa to assess the relationships between individual morphological species. The resulting phylogeny was used to assess the patterns characterizing the morphological evolution of this genus. The phylogenetic analysis led to the recognition of eight well-resolved lineages that could be characterized by selected morphological features. Apart from the members of Micrasterias, three species belonged to different traditional desmid genera (Cosmarium, Staurodesmus, and Triploceras) and were inferred to be nested within the genus. Morphological comparisons of these species with their relatives revealed an accelerated rate of morphological evolution. Mapping morphological diversification of the genus on the phylogenetic tree revealed profound differences in the phylogenetic signal of selected phenotypic features. Whereas the branching pattern of the cells clearly correlated with the phylogeny, cell complexity possibly reflected rather their adaptive morphological responses to environmental conditions. Finally, ancestral reconstruction of distribution patterns indicated potential origin of the genus in North America, with additional speciation events occurring in the Indo-Malaysian region.

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