Infraspecific diversification of the star cloak fern (Notholaena standleyi) in the deserts of the United States and Mexico.

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PREMISE:Not all ferns grow in moist and shaded habitats. One well-known example is Notholaena standleyi, a species that thrives in deserts of the southwestern United States and Mexico. This species exhibits several "chemotypes" that differ in farina (flavonoid exudates) color and chemistry. By integrating data from molecular phylogenetics, cytology, biochemistry, and biogeography, we circumscribed the major evolutionary lineages within N. standleyi and reconstructed their diversification histories. METHODS:Forty-eight samples were selected from across the geographic distribution of N. standleyi. Phylogenetic relationships were inferred using four plastid and five nuclear markers. Ploidy levels were inferred using spore sizes calibrated by chromosome counts, and farina chemistry was compared using thin-layer chromatography. RESULTS:Four clades are recognized, three of which roughly correspond to previously recognized chemotypes. The diploid clades G and Y are found in the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts, respectively; they are estimated to have diverged in the Pleistocene, congruent with the postulated timing of climatological events separating these two deserts. Clade P/YG is tetraploid and partially overlaps the distribution of clade Y in the eastern Chihuahuan Desert. It is apparently confined to limestone, a geologic substrate rarely occupied by members of the other clades. The cryptic (C) clade, a diploid group known only from southern Mexico and highly disjunct from the other three clades, is newly recognized here. CONCLUSIONS:Our results reveal a complex intraspecific diversification history of N. standleyi, traceable to a variety of evolutionary drivers including classic allopatry, parapatry with or without changes in geologic substrate, and sympatric divergence through polyploidization.





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Kao, T, CJ Rothfels, A Melgoza‐Castillo, KM Pryer and MD Windham (2020). Infraspecific diversification of the star cloak fern (Notholaena standleyi) in the deserts of the United States and Mexico. American journal of botany, 107(4). pp. 658–675. 10.1002/ajb2.1461 Retrieved from

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Kathleen M. Pryer

Professor of Biology

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