Large-scale patterns of diversification in the widespread legume genus senna and the evolutionary role of extrafloral nectaries

Brigitte Marazzi, Michael J. Sanderson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

58 Scopus citations


Unraveling the diversification history of old, species-rich and widespread clades is difficult because of extinction, undersampling, and taxonomic uncertainty. In the context of these challenges, we investigated the timing and mode of lineage diversification in Senna (Leguminosae) to gain insights into the evolutionary role of extrafloral nectaries (EFNs). EFNs secrete nectar, attracting ants and forming ecologically important ant-plant mutualisms. In Senna, EFNs characterize one large clade (EFN clade), including 80% of its 350 species. Taxonomic accounts make Senna the largest caesalpinioid genus, but quantitative comparisons to other taxa require inferences about rates. Molecular dating analyses suggest that Senna originated in the early Eocene, and its major lineages appeared during early/mid Eocene to early Oligocene. EFNs evolved in the late Eocene, after the main radiation of ants. The EFN clade diversified faster, becoming significantly more species-rich than non-EFN clades. The shift in diversification rates associated with EFN evolution supports the hypothesis that EFNs represent a (relatively old) key innovation in Senna. EFNs may have promoted the colonization of new habitats appearing with the early uplift of the Andes. This would explain the distinctive geographic concentration of the EFN clade in South America.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3570-3592
Number of pages23
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2010


  • Andes
  • Ant-plant mutualism
  • Diversification rates
  • Key innovation
  • Leguminosae
  • Radiation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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