Plant Ecology and Evolution 155(1): 41-50, doi: 10.5091/plecevo.84466
Monophyly and transoceanic dispersal in the widespread floating club-rush clade, Isolepis subgenus Fluitantes (Cyperaceae)
expand article infoJan-Adriaan Viljoen, Terry A.J. Hedderson§, Charlotte Sletten Bjorå|, Muthama Muasya§
‡ Bolus Herbarium, Biological Sciences Department, University of Cape Town, Rondebosch, South Africa§ University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa| Natural History Museum, Oslo, Norway¶ University of Cape Town, Rondebosch, South Africa
Open Access

Background and aims – Numerous lineages in the Western Cape of South Africa show affinities with the floras of tropical Africa and Australasia. Isolepis subgenus Fluitantes, comprising seven to nine species, includes the broadly-defined I. fluitans, which occurs throughout Africa into Europe and Asia, as well as on both sides of the Indian Ocean. Thus, it is well suited for testing the generality of both the Cape-to-Cairo pattern of dispersal and transoceanic dispersal between southern Africa and Australasia.
Material and methods – We inferred a dated population-level phylogeny based on new sequence data from the nuclear ITS and the chloroplast atpI–H gene regions. We constructed dispersal–extinction–cladogenesis models in Lagrange to infer ancestral areas and to compare the likelihoods of stepping-stone and long-distance modes of dispersal.
Key results – The Fluitantes originated in the Cape about 7 million years ago (mya). They spread stepwise onto the mountains of East Africa and thence into Europe and the islands of the Indian Ocean, seemingly tracking their ancestral habitat. Australasia was colonised by a single long-distance dispersal event ca 3 mya. Incongruence between the plastid and nuclear gene trees was apparent for the Australasian taxa, I. crassiuscula, I. lenticularis, and I. producta, with their atpI–H sequences placing them with I. ludwigii in the Fluitantes and the ITS nrDNA resolving them in the Proliferae. Furthermore, two African taxa (I. graminoides, I. inyangensis) diagnosed on unique morphology are resolved as part of the widespread I. fluitans.
Conclusion – This study supports and extends the northward migration model that accounts for the Cape element of the Afromontane flora. Australasia was colonised directly from southern Africa, perhaps assisted by wind or waterfowl. Despite ancient hybridization associated with dispersal, we recognise the three taxa in Australasia as distinct, but synonymise I. graminoides and I. inyangensis into the widespread I. fluitans.

Gene tree incongruence, hybridisation, long-distance dispersal, phylogeny, phytogeography, stepping-stone dispersal, taxonomy