Molecular Systematics, Species Concepts, and Myrmecophytism in Cecropia (Cecropieae: Urticaceae): Insights from Restriction-Site Associated DNA

Erin L. Treiber, Paul Camilo Zalamea, María Fernanda Torres, Santiago Madriñán, George D. Weiblen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Cecropia is a group of fast-growing pioneer trees that are important in forest regeneration and a common ant-plant mutualism in the Neotropics. To investigate the evolution of mutualism between Cecropia and associated ants, a phylogenetic framework is necessary. Cecropia species are difficult to distinguish morphologically and conventional genetic markers are insufficiently variable to resolve the phylogenetic relationships among species. Our study aimed to compare the phylogenetic utility of restriction site associated DNA (RAD) sequencing to prior work based on commonly sequenced gene regions. RAD sequence data resolved and supported species-level relationships better than previous studies. We identified a deeply divergent non-myrmecophytic clade including C. sciadophylla and African Musanga. Results from geographically widespread and morphologically heterogenous C. obtusifolia and C. angustifolia suggest that current synonymy has lumped phylogenetically divergent lineages. Reconstruction of ant associations on the highly supported Cecropia phylogeny inferred equal probability of the ancestor of Cecropia being myrmecophytic or not. More intensive genetic study is needed to refine species concepts in Cecropia.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)457-466
Number of pages10
JournalSystematic Botany
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would like to thank C. Sagers for encouraging and supporting our work with Cecropia. We also thank J. Bevington, P. Barriga, A. Gaglioti, and E. Kami for fresh plant material and the Paris Herbarium and the Missouri Botanical Garden Herbarium for access to herbarium specimens. We would like to acknowledge A. Guensberg and G. Kand-likar for laboratory assistance. This manuscript was improved by valuable comments from J. W. Dalling. The work was supported by a US National Science Foundation Grant to GW and SM (DEB-1132916). Support for ET was provided by the Bernard and Jean Phinney Graduate Fellowship in Plant Molecular Biology from the Department of Plant Biology, the Joyce Davenport Summer Fellowship the Bell Museum of Natural History, the College of Biological Sciences Excellence Fellowship from the University of Minnesota. GW was supported by the Sanford Chair at Universidad de los Andes. PCZ acknowledges support from the University of South Florida.

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  • Ancestral state reconstruction
  • RADseq
  • ant-plant associations
  • mutualism
  • pioneer trees


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