Phylogenetics of epiphytic cacti

DNA sequence analysis improves our understanding of the relationships between the epiphytic cacti.

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31 Jan 2012

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Hatiora cylindrica

Hatiora cylindrica (Image: A. Calvente)

The Tribe Rhipsalideae is composed of unusual epiphytic or lithophytic cacti that inhabit humid tropical and subtropical forests. Collaboration between researchers at the University of São Paulo and Kew has recently resulted in the publication of two papers on the phylogenetics, evolution and biogeography of this cactus group, based on molecular data.

Four main clades

The first paper, published in Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, focuses on the relationships within the tribe and shows that this group comprises four main clades supporting the recognition of the genera Lepismium, Rhipsalis, Hatiora and Schlumbergera. It also presents evidence that the genus Schlumbergera should be expanded to include Hatiora subg. Rhipsalidopsis.

Exploring relationships

The second publication, in the International Journal of Plant Sciences, explores in more detail the relationships within the genus Rhipsalis, its biogeographical history and morphological evolution. The authors show that coastal Brazil is the ancestral home of several lineages within Rhipsalis and that these have recently dispersed to other tropical forests in South America, North America, Africa, and Asia.

Item from Dr Felix Forest (Head of Molecular Systematics, Kew)
Kew Scientist, issue 40


Article References:

Calvente, A., Zappi, D. C., Forest, F. & Lohmann, L. G. (2011). Molecular phylogeny of tribe Rhipsalideae (Cactaceae) and taxonomic implications for Schlumbergera and Hatiora. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 58: 456-468.

Calvente, A., Zappi, D. C., Forest, F., Lohmann, L. G. (2011). Molecular Phylogeny, Evolution, and biogeography of South American epiphytic cacti. International Journal of Plant Sciences 172: 902–914.


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