Maidenhair Ferns, Adiantum, are Indeed Monophyletic and Sister to Shoestring Ferns, Vittarioids (Pteridaceae)
Across the tree of life, molecular phylogenetic studies often reveal surprising relationships between taxa with radically different morphologies that have long obscured their close affiliations. A spectacular botanical example is Rafflesia, a holoparasite that produces the largest flowers in the world, but that evolved from tiny-flowered ancestors within the Euphorbiaceae. Outside of parasitic lineages, such abrupt transformations are rarely seen. One exception involves the “maidenhair ferns” (Adiantum), which are quintessential ferns: beautifully dissected, terrestrial, and shade loving. The closely related “shoestring ferns” (vittarioids), in contrast, have an extremely simplified morphology, are canopy-dwelling epiphytes, and exhibit greatly accelerated rates of molecular evolution. While Adiantum and the vittarioids together have been shown to form a robust monophyletic group (adiantoids), there remain unanswered questions regarding the monophyly of Adiantum and the evolutionary history of the vittarioids. Here we review recent phylogenetic evidence suggesting support for the monophyly of Adiantum, and analyze new plastid data to confirm this result. We find that Adiantum is monophyletic and sister to the vittarioids. With this robust phylogenetic framework established for the broadest relationships in the adiantoid clade, we can now focus on understanding the evolutionary processes associated with the extreme morphological, ecological, and genetic transitions that took place within this lineage.
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