Does polyploidy facilitate long-distance dispersal?

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• Background and Aims

The ability of plant lineages to reach all continents contributes substantially to their evolutionary success. This is exemplified by the Poaceae, one of the most successful angiosperm families, in which most higher taxa (tribes, subfamilies) have global distributions. Due to the old age of the ocean basins relative to the major angiosperm radiations, this is only possible by means of long-distance dispersal (LDD), yet the attributes of lineages with successful LDD remain obscure. Polyploid species are over-represented in invasive floras and in the previously glaciated Arctic regions, and often have wider ecological tolerances than diploids; thus polyploidy is a candidate attribute of successful LDD.

• Methods

The link between polyploidy and LDD was explored in the globally distributed grass subfamily Danthonioideae. An almost completely sampled and well-resolved species-level phylogeny of the danthonioids was used, and the available cytological information was assembled. The cytological evolution in the clade was inferred using maximum likelihood (ML) as implemented in ChromEvol. The biogeographical evolution in the clade was reconstructed using ML and Bayesian approaches.

• Key Results

Numerous increases in ploidy level are demonstrated. A Late Miocene–Pliocene cycle of polyploidy is associated with LDD, and in two cases (the Australian Rytidosperma and the American Danthonia) led to secondary polyploidy. While it is demonstrated that successful LDD is more likely in polyploid than in diploid lineages, a link between polyploidization events and LDD is not demonstrated.

• Conclusions

The results suggest that polyploids are more successful at LDD than diploids, and that the frequent polyploidy in the grasses might have facilitated the extensive dispersal among continents in the family, thus contributing to their evolutionary success.

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