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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Accelerated evolutionary rates in tropical and oceanic parmelioid lichens (Ascomycota)

H Thorsten Lumbsch1, Andrew L Hipp2, Pradeep K Divakar3, Oscar Blanco3 and Ana Crespo3*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Botany, The Field Museum, 1400 S. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, IL 60605, USA

2 The Morton Arboretum, 4100 Illinois Route 53, Lisle, IL 60532, USA

3 Departamento de Biología Vegetal II, Facultad de Farmacia, Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Madrid 28040, Spain

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2008, 8:257  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-8-257

Published: 22 September 2008



The rate of nucleotide substitutions is not constant across the Tree of Life, and departures from a molecular clock have been commonly reported. Within parmelioid lichens, the largest group of macrolichens, large discrepancies in branch lengths between clades were found in previous studies. Using an extended taxon sampling, we test for presence of significant rate discrepancies within and between these clades and test our a priori hypothesis that such rate discrepancies may be explained by shifts in moisture regime or other environmental conditions.


In this paper, the first statistical evidence for accelerated evolutionary rate in lichenized ascomycetes is presented. Our results give clear evidence for a faster rate of evolution in two Hypotrachyna clades that includes species occurring in tropical and oceanic habitats in comparison with clades consisting of species occurring in semi-arid and temperate habitats. Further we explore potential links between evolutionary rates and shifts in habitat by comparing alternative Ornstein-Uhlenbeck models.


Although there was only weak support for a shift at the base of a second tropical clade, where the observed nucleotide substitution rate is high, overall support for a shift in environmental conditions at cladogenesis is very strong. This suggests that speciation in some lichen clades has proceeded by dispersal into a novel environment, followed by radiation within that environment. We found moderate support for a shift in moisture regime at the base of one tropical clade and a clade occurring in semi-arid regions and a shift in minimum temperature at the base of a boreal-temperate clade.