Phylogeny of Rhaponticum (Asteraceae, Cardueae-Centaureinae) and related genera inferred from nuclear and chloroplast DNA sequence data: taxonomic and biogeographic implications.
Background and Aims: The precise generic delimitation of the Rhaponticum group is not totally resolved. The lack of knowledge of the relationships between the basal genera of Centaureinae could imply that genera whose position is as yet unresolved could belong to the Rhaponticum group. On the other hand, the affinities among the genera that are considered as members of this group are not well known. The aim of the study is to contribute to the phylogenetic and generic delineation of the Rhaponticum group on the basis of molecular data. Methods: Parsimony and Bayesian analyses of the combined sequences of one plastid (trnL-trnF) and two nuclear (ITS region and ETS) molecular markers were carried out. The results of these analyses are discussed in the light of the biogeographic history. Key Results: The Rhaponticum group appears as monophyletic, and closely related to the genus Klasea. The results confirm the preliminary generic delimitation of the Rhaponticum group, with the new incorporation of the genus Centaurothamnus. Ochrocephala is supported as a separate genus from Rhaponticum and, contrary to this, Acroptilon and Leuzea appear as merged into the genus Rhaponticum. Several nomenclatural rearrangements are made in Klasea and Rhaponticum. Conclusions: The new molecular evidence is consistent with the morphological and karyological data, and suggests particularly coherent biogeographic routes of migration and speciation processes for the genus Rhaponticum. The biogeographic inference proposes a Near East and/or Caucasian origin for the genus. Furthermore, representatives of Rhaponticum could have reached Europe in two different ways: (1) expansion across central Asia to eastern Europe, and (2) expansion through the Near East, North Africa and then to the Iberian Peninsula and the Alps.