Working Group

Grass phylogeny working group ii: inferring the complex history of c4 photosynthesis in grasses

PI(s): Erika J Edwards (Brown University)
Stephen Smith (NESCent)
Nicolas Salamin (University of Lausanne)
Start Date: 1-Nov-2009
End Date: 31-Oct-2011

Grasses (Poaceae) are arguably the most ecologically and economically important plants on Earth. Poaceae contains ~10,000 species, and is notable for exceptional evolutionary lability in photosynthetic pathway: recent studies have suggested at least 17 origins (and several reversals) of C4 photosynthesis. C4 grasses dominate vast areas of the world, and reconstructing C4 evolutionary history is fundamental to understanding the rise of tropical and subtropical grasslands and the faunal communities they support. Here we outline a directed effort to best utilize the data accessible in two public archives: NCBI and GBIF. We will infer the largest possible phylogeny of grasses, and reconstruct evolutionary patterns of photosynthetic pathway variation and environmental niche diversification. We will also refine two recently developed analysis pipelines for both NCBI and GBIF data and make these accessible to the broader research community. Such pipelines will stimulate a new age of discovery by making macro-evolutionary ‘mega-analyses’ a possibility for a wider range of researchers. A final task will be to plan a strategy for building a species-level tree for Poaceae, and the efforts outlined here will make an important first step by re-organizing the grass phylogenetics community to facilitate a grand collaborative sequencing effort. Filling in the tips of mega-diverse clades is arguably the current challenge for phylogenetics. Grasses are well positioned to be among the first lineages of this size where complete taxon sampling is possible, but only if efforts are strongly coordinated across multiple research groups. A complete Poaceae phylogeny will provide unprecedented opportunity for macroevolutionary research.