East Asian lobelioideae and ancient divergence of a giant rosette Lobelia in Himalayan Bhutan

Ling Yun Chen, Qing Feng Wang, Susanne S. Renner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Lobelioideae comprise about 1200 species in 30 genera worldwide and include famous cases of parallel evolution in the “giant rosette” lobelias occurring in East Africa, Hawaii, and Bhutan. To date, no phylogeny has included the Himalayan giant lobelia, and its age and phylogenetic distance from the Hawaiian and African giant species (the latter in the same section as the Bhutan species) are therefore unknown. Asian Lobelioideae in general have received little attention, partly because of the difficult access to material. Here we use nuclear and plastid markers of Lobelioideae (with worldwide sampling) to test the monophyly of the section that includes most Asian lobelias, and we then use a reduced concatenated matrix to resolve the position of Lobelia nubigena from Bhutan and of the likewise cold-adapted lowland species L. sessilifolia. Most sequences come from herbarium material. Lobelia nubigena diverged from its Asian lowland relatives 13.8 (12.6-15) million years ago (about the time of the Bhutan Himalaya orogeny), and in an unexpected twist, L. sessilifolia is the sister species to a huge clade (ca. 265 species) that comprises African, South American, Asian, and the entire Hawaiian Lobelioideae radiation. The African and Hawaiian high-elevation lobelias in our sample are younger than L. nubigena, although the time when gigantism evolved in this species cannot be precisely inferred. Our results support the previously hypothesized Asian origin of (1) the Hawaiian Lobelioideae, (2) Southeast Asian islands lobelias, and (3) the African Lobelia-Rynchopetalum group, which also reached South America.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)293-304
Number of pages12
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 3 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank T. Givnish for his review, Hidetoshi Kato for material of L. boninensis, A. Antonelli for DNA of L. leschenaultiana, Ting- Shuang Yi, Shi-Xiao Luo, Xue-Jun Ge and Gui-Lin Sun for Chinese Lobelia material, Forest and Kim Starr for the photo of L. boninensis, and the curators of the herbaria of Edinburgh and Harvard for specimen loans or leaf fragments; De-Yuan Hong and Zhi-Duan Chen for advice; Guang-Wan Hu and Xue Yan for assistance in the field; and Shu-Ying Zhao and Martina Silber for help in the lab. This research was supported by Grants from the Sino-Africa Joint Research Center (no. Y323771W07) and the National Natural Science Foundation of China (no. 31300182).

Publisher Copyright:
© International Association for Plant Taxonomy (IAPT) 2016.


  • Africa
  • Bhutan
  • Biogeography
  • Campanulaceae
  • Himalaya
  • Lobelia worldwide
  • Lobelioideae


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