Evolutionary bursts in Euphorbia (Euphorbiaceae) are linked with photosynthetic pathway

James W. Horn, Zhenxiang Xi, Ricarda Riina, Jess A. Peirson, Ya Yang, Brian L. Dorsey, Paul E. Berry, Charles C. Davis, Kenneth J. Wurdack

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

84 Scopus citations


The mid-Cenozoic decline of atmospheric CO2 levels that promoted global climate change was critical to shaping contemporary arid ecosystems. Within angiosperms, two CO2-concentrating mechanisms (CCMs)-crassulacean acid metabolism (CAM) and C4-evolved from the C3 photosynthetic pathway, enabling more efficient whole-plant function in such environments. Many angiosperm clades with CCMs are thought to have diversified rapidly due to Miocene aridification, but links between this climate change, CCM evolution, and increased net diversification rates (r) remain to be further understood. Euphorbia (∼2000 species) includes a diversity of CAM-using stem succulents, plus a single species-rich C4 subclade. We used ancestral state reconstructions with a dated molecular phylogeny to reveal that CCMs independently evolved 17-22 times in Euphorbia, principally from the Miocene onwards. Analyses assessing among-lineage variation in r identified eight Euphorbia subclades with significantly increased r, six of which have a close temporal relationship with a lineage-corresponding CCM origin. Our trait-dependent diversification analysis indicated that r of Euphorbia CCM lineages is approximately threefold greater than C3 lineages. Overall, these results suggest that CCM evolution in Euphorbia was likely an adaptive strategy that enabled the occupation of increased arid niche space accompanying Miocene expansion of arid ecosystems. These opportunities evidently facilitated recent, replicated bursts of diversification in Euphorbia.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3485-3504
Number of pages20
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 1 2014

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2014 The Society for the Study of Evolution.


  • Ancestral state reconstruction
  • C photosynthesis
  • CAM photosynthesis
  • Climate change
  • Diversification
  • Miocene
  • Species selection
  • Succulent


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