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The angiosperm order Malpighiales includes ∼16,000 species and constitutes up to 40% of the understory tree diversity in tropical rain forests. Despite remarkable progress in angiosperm systematics during the last 20 y, relationships within Malpighiales remain poorly resolved, possibly owing to its rapid rise during the mid-Cretaceous. Using phylogenomic approaches, including analyses of 82 plastid genes from 58 species, we identified 12 additional clades in Malpighiales and substantially increased resolution along the backbone. This greatly improved phylogeny revealed a dynamic history of shifts in net diversification rates across Malpighiales, with bursts of diversification noted in the Barbados cherries (Malpighiaceae), cocas (Erythroxylaceae), and passion flowers (Passifloraceae). We found that commonly used a priori approaches for partitioning concatenated data in maximum likelihood analyses, by gene or by codon position, performed poorly relative to the use of partitions identified a posteriori using a Bayesian mixture model. We also found better branch support in trees inferred from a taxon-rich, data-sparse matrix, which deeply sampled only the phylogenetically critical placeholders, than in trees inferred from a taxon-sparse matrix with little missing data. Although this matrix has more missing data, our a posteriori partitioning strategy reduced the possibility of producing multiple distinct but equally optimal topologies and increased phylogenetic decisiveness, compared with the strategy of partitioning by gene. These approaches are likely to help improve phylogenetic resolution in other poorly resolved major clades of angiosperms and to be more broadly useful in studies across the Tree of Life.

Publication Date

October 2012

Publication Title

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America





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