Phylogenetic and functional growth from diversification in the Cape grass genus Ehrharta Thunb

Doctoral Thesis


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University of Cape Town

This thesis uses phylogenetic and comparative data to test an hypothesis of adaptive radiation in the Cape grass genus Ehrharta Thunb. sensu stricto. Morphological data and sequence data from two noncoding regions of DNA (lTS1 and trnL-F) are used to produce a phylogenetic hypothesis for the tribe Ehrharteae. Combined analysis of these data sets resolves four principal clades that approximate the genera Ehrharta s. s., Micro/aena, Tetrarrhena and Zotovia and this result thus supports a four-genus classification. Poor resolution and a reduction in branch length at the base of a clade nested within Ehrharta s. s. suggests past radiation. Parsimony-based reconstruction of ancestral habitats and growth form attributes indicates that such radiation is associated with a historical transition to seasonallydrier but more fertile habitats, and the coincident or subsequent evolution of several growth form novelties (e.g. buried and swollen culm bases and annualness). These traits are interpreted to reflect divergent strategies for surviving seasonal drought (Le. via seed or storage). Much higher transpiration rates in summer-deciduous leaves than in perennating culms of two species suggest that the evolution of summer-deciduous foliage was important in the occupation of seasonally-arid habitats. Controlled growth experiments are used to test the hypothesis that divergence in persistence traits is associated with differences in seedling biomass allocation and relative growth rate (RGR). Ehrharta s. s. shows wide variation in seedling RGR and regressions based on phylogenetically independent contrasts suggest that differences are better explained by early biomass allocation than leaf area indices. Species with a high allocation to leaves grow faster and flower sooner, so these traits are typical of seeding species.

Includes bibliography.