Confluence, synnovation, and depauperons in plant diversification

Michael J. Donoghue, Michael J. Sanderson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

158 Scopus citations


We review the empirical phylogenetic literature on plant diversification, highlighting challenges in separating the effects of speciation and extinction, in specifying diversification mechanisms, and in making convincing arguments. In recent discussions of context dependence, key opportunities and landscapes, and indirect effects and lag times, we see a distinct shift away from single-point/single-cause 'key innovation' hypotheses toward more nuanced explanations involving multiple interacting causal agents assembled step-wise through a tree. To help crystalize this emerging perspective we introduce the term 'synnovation' (a hybrid of 'synergy' and 'innovation') for an interacting combination of traits with a particular consequence ('key synnovation' in the case of increased diversification rate), and the term 'confluence' for the sequential coming together of a set of traits (innovations and synnovations), environmental changes, and geographic movements along the branches of a phylogenetic tree. We illustrate these concepts using the radiation of Bromeliaceae. We also highlight the generality of these ideas by considering how rate heterogeneity associated with a confluence relates to the existence of particularly species-poor lineages, or 'depauperons.' Many challenges are posed by this re-purposed research framework, including difficulties associated with partial taxon sampling, uncertainty in divergence time estimation, and extinction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)260-274
Number of pages15
JournalNew Phytologist
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jul 1 2015


  • Diversification
  • Extinction rate
  • Phylogeny
  • Radiation
  • Speciation rate
  • Vascular plants

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Plant Science


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