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Testing the monophyly and position of the North American shrubby desert genus Leucophyllum (Scrophulariaceae: Leucophylleae)


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Leucophyllum is one of the most remarkable endemic genera of North American deserts, with its simultaneous bloom of showy purple flowers. With Eremogeton and probably Capraria it forms part of tribe Leucophylleae. Leucophyllum has 16 species distributed mostly throughout the Chihuahuan and Tehuacán deserts. The three genera were sampled to investigate the phylogenetic relationships among them and to test the monophyly of Leucophyllum, based on plastid DNA (trnL-F, rps16) and nuclear ribosomal (nr)DNA (internal transcribed spacer) sequences. Bayesian inference and maximum-likelihood analyses confirmed that tribe Leucophylleae is monophyletic and formed by the three Neotropical genera. Separate (plastid DNA and nrDNA) and combined analyses retrieved Leucophyllum as paraphyletic, with L. mojinense as the sister species to the rest of the species in the tribe and Capraria spp. nested in one of two clades of Leucophyllum. Further monographic work is needed to identify the defining characters and limits of the genera, but we suggest that L. mojinense, with its different vegetative architecture, distinctive flowers and dissimilar distribution could be placed in its own genus. Each of the two clades in Leucophyllum could be considered a genus in its own right, and Capraria and Eremogeton can be recognized as independent genera, as they are at present. Leucophyllum ambiguum, the type species of the genus, belongs to one of the clades so the species of the other could be considered members of a new genus. The only diagnostic character detected at present is a ventricose corolla tube in one of the clades in Leucophyllum and a pressed corolla tube in the other. © 2013 The Linnean Society of London

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