Aim Nicotiana section Suaveolentes is largely endemic to Australia but includes one species endemic to Africa, one to New Caledonia and Tongatupa, and one to the Marquesas Islands in the Pacific. Other sections of Nicotiana are found in the New World. In Australia, Suaveolentes is widespread across the continent, with many taxa adapted to the Eremean zone. We aim to analyse the biogeography of the Australian clade, both to shed light on the evolution of the group and to determine general area relationships that provide insight into the history of the arid-zone biota.
Location Mesic and arid regions of continental Australia, the Central–South Pacific and Namibia, Africa.
Methods A phylogeny of Suaveolentes, based on morphology and molecular data, was used to analyse the relationships of areas in which the taxa occur. The section is monophyletic, and all but three taxa were included (25). The method of paralogy-free subtree analysis was employed, with the basal taxon Nicotiana africana used as the outgroup.
Results Paralogy-free subtree analysis found five area subtrees that, when combined, resulted in a minimal area cladogram with six resolved nodes. Pacific and mesic eastern Australia (including Lord Howe Island) are at the base of the area cladogram, followed by the differentiation of North West Australia and later South East Australia. Arid regions of Australia are related, revealing three biogeographical tracks: a northern track including the Great Sandy Desert and Tanami, which are related to the Pilbara; a central track relating the Western Desert, Central Ranges, Eastern Desert and North East Interzone; and a southern track relating the South West Interzone, Nullarbor, Adelaide/Eyre and the South East Interzone. Plesiomorphic taxa with chromosome number n = 24–23 occur on the periphery of the continent, and derived taxa with n = 21, 20, 18, 16–15 identify the tracks across arid Australia.
Main conclusions The patterns of distribution and differentiation of Suaveolentes in Australia show that the age of the clade is at least Early Miocene, dating to before the onset of aridification in Australia about 15 Ma. The patterns are also interpreted as evidence that it was vicariance that largely shaped speciation in the Eremean zone, with range expansion of some widespread taxa probably occurring in the most recent cycles of severe drying and mobilization of desert dune sands.