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Open Access Commentary

Giant lobelias exemplify convergent evolution

Thomas J Givnish

Author Affiliations

Department of Botany, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI 53706, USA

BMC Biology 2010, 8:3  doi:10.1186/1741-7007-8-3

Published: 14 January 2010

Abstract

Giant lobeliads on tropical mountains in East Africa and Hawaii have highly unusual, giant-rosette growth forms that appear to be convergent on each other and on those of several independently evolved groups of Asteraceae and other families. A recent phylogenetic analysis by Antonelli, based on sequencing the widest selection of lobeliads to date, raises doubts about this paradigmatic example of convergent evolution. Here I address the kinds of evidence needed to test for convergent evolution and argue that the analysis by Antonelli fails on four points. Antonelli's analysis makes several important contributions to our understanding of lobeliad evolution and geographic spread, but his claim regarding convergence appears to be invalid. Giant lobeliads in Hawaii and Africa represent paradigmatic examples of convergent evolution.