The systematic significance of wood anatomical characters within Ericales is evaluated using separate and combined parsimony analyses including 23 wood characters and 3945 informative molecular characters. Analyses of wood features alone result in poorly resolved and conflicting topologies. However, when pedomorphic character states are coded as inapplicable, the combined bootstrap topology results in an increase of resolution and support at most deeper nodes compared with the molecular analyses. This suggests that phylogenetic information from the limited number of morphological characters is not completely swamped by an overwhelming amount of molecular data. Based on the morphology of vessels and fibers, and the distribution of axial parenchyma, two major wood types can be distinguished within Ericales: (i) a “primitive” type, nearly identical to the wood structure in the more basal outgroup Cornales, which is likely to have persisted in one major clade, and (ii) a “derived” type that must have evolved in at least two separate evolutionary lines. The occurrence of the first type is strongly correlated with shrubs to small trees growing in cold temperate or tropical montane regions, while the second type is common in tall trees of tropical lowlands. This favors the inclusion of ecologically adaptive features in phylogeny reconstruction.
© The Willi Hennig Society 2006.