Background and Aims Some plant groups, especially on islands, have been shaped by strong ancestral bottlenecks and rapid, recent radiation of phenotypic characters. Single molecular markers are often not informative enough for phylogenetic reconstruction in such plant groups. Whole plastid genomes and nuclear ribosomal DNA (nrDNA) are viewed by many researchers as sources of information for phylogenetic reconstruction of groups in which expected levels of divergence in standard markers are low. Here we evaluate the usefulness of these data types to resolve phylogenetic relationships among closely related Diospyros species.
Methods Twenty-two closely related Diospyros species from New Caledonia were investigated using whole plastid genomes and nrDNA data from low-coverage next-generation sequencing (NGS). Phylogenetic trees were inferred using maximum parsimony, maximum likelihood and Bayesian inference on separate plastid and nrDNA and combined matrices.
Key Results The plastid and nrDNA sequences were, singly and together, unable to provide well supported phylogenetic relationships among the closely related New Caledonian Diospyros species. In the nrDNA, a 6-fold greater percentage of parsimony-informative characters compared with plastid DNA was found, but the total number of informative sites was greater for the much larger plastid DNA genomes. Combining the plastid and nuclear data improved resolution. Plastid results showed a trend towards geographical clustering of accessions rather than following taxonomic species.
Conclusions In plant groups in which multiple plastid markers are not sufficiently informative, an investigation at the level of the entire plastid genome may also not be sufficient for detailed phylogenetic reconstruction. Sequencing of complete plastid genomes and nrDNA repeats seems to clarify some relationships among the New Caledonian Diospyros species, but the higher percentage of parsimony-informative characters in nrDNA compared with plastid DNA did not help to resolve the phylogenetic tree because the total number of variable sites was much lower than in the entire plastid genome. The geographical clustering of the individuals against a background of overall low sequence divergence could indicate transfer of plastid genomes due to hybridization and introgression following secondary contact.