Abstract

Notoriously slow rates of molecular evolution and convergent evolution among some morphological characters have limited phylogenetic resolution for the palm family (Arecaceae). This study adds nuclear DNA (18S SSU rRNA) and chloroplast DNA (cpDNA; atpB and rbcL) sequence data for 65 genera of palms and characterizes molecular variation for each molecule. Phylogenetic relationships were estimated with maximum likelihood and maximum parsimony techniques for the new data and for previously published molecular data for 45 palm genera. Maximum parsimony analysis was also used to compare molecular and morphological data for 33 palm genera. Incongruence among datasets was detected between cpDNA and 18S data and between molecular and morphological data. Most conflict between nuclear and cpDNA data was associated with the genus Nypa. Several taxa showed relatively long branches with 18S data, but phylogenetic resolution of these taxa was essentially the same for 18S and cpDNA data. Base composition bias for 18S that contributed to erroneous phylogenetic resolution in other taxa did not seem to be present in Palmae. Morphological data were incongruent with all molecular data due to apparent morphological homoplasy for Caryoteae, Ceroxyloideae, Iriarteae, and Thrinacinae. Both cpDNA and nuclear 18S data firmly resolved Caryoteae with Borasseae of Coryphoideae, suggesting that at least some morphological characters used to place Caryoteae in Arecoideae are homoplastic. In this study, increased character sampling seems to be more important than increased taxon sampling; a comparison of the full (65-taxon) and reduced (45- and 33-taxon) datasets suggests little difference in core topology but considerably more nodal support with the increased character sample sizes. These results indicate a general trend toward a stable estimate of phylogenetic relationships for the Palmae. Although the 33-taxon topologies are even better resolved, they lack several critical taxa and are affected by incongruence between molecular and morphological data. As such, a comparison of results from the 45- and 33-taxon trees offers the best available reference for phylogenetic inference on palms.