Phylogeny and biogeography of Chinese Heracleum (Apiaceae tribe Tordylieae) with comments on their fruit morphology

Yan Yu, Stephen R. Downie, Xingjin He, Xianlan Deng, Ling Yan

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The Sino-Himalayan Mountain Region is a major center of diversity of Heracleum (Apiaceae, Tordylieae, Tordyliinae), yet the phylogenetic relationships among its rich diversity of endemic taxa are largely unknown. In this study, we (1) investigate the monophyly of Heracleum and ascertain the phylogenetic placements of those species of Heracleum from China that fall outside of the group; (2) estimate phylogenetic relationships within Heracleum sensu stricto, particularly among those species occurring in the Hengduan Mountain Region of southwestern China; and (3) reconstruct the biogeographic history of Heracleum sensu stricto. To achieve these objectives, Bayesian inference and maximum-parsimony analyses of the nuclear ribosomal DNA (nrDNA) internal transcribed spacer (ITS) region and five noncoding chloroplast DNA (cpDNA) loci (rps16-trnK, rps16 intron, trnQ-rps16, rpl32-trnL, and psbA-trnH), separately and in combination, were carried out. Fruit morphology of the Chinese Heracleum species was examined. Statistical dispersal-vicariance analysis (S-DIVA) was used to reconstruct the biogeographic history. In total, 114 accessions were considered, which included 88 species representing eight genera of subtribe Tordyliinae, 28 of the 29 species of Heracleum occurring in China, and 4 species of Angelica as outgroups. The genus Heracleum is monophyletic upon the exclusion of nine species of Heracleum from China and the inclusion of the Caucasian monotypic genera Mandenovia and Symphyoloma. These nine excluded species show affinities to Tetrataenium, Semenovia, and Angelica. The species of Heracleum endemic to southwestern China form a moderately to strongly supported clade; however, major discordance between the ITS- and cpDNA-derived phylogenies, lack of resolution in the trees, and polyphyly of several species preclude unequivocal hypotheses of phylogenetic relationship. The distinctly clavate vittae, shorter than the length of the mericarp, is a diagnostic feature for Heracleum sensu stricto. Heracleum originated in the West Palearctic, with three possible migration routes leading to its present-day distribution. Major topological conflicts between the ITS and cpDNA trees may be due to interspecific hybridization and/or incomplete lineage sorting. The taxonomic limits of many Chinese Heracleum species remain unclear, possibly because of recent radiation in the Hengduan Mountains.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)179-203
Number of pages25
JournalPlant Systematics and Evolution
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Oct 2011


  • Apiaceae
  • Heracleum
  • Phylogeny
  • Tordylieae
  • cpDNA
  • nrDNA ITS

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Plant Science


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