Working with colleagues at Yale, the University of Arkansas, and the Australian National University, we have developed a well-sampled, time-calibrated molecular phylogeny for conifers. This phylogeny samples around 80% of the approximately 615 extant conifer species and was dated with 16 fossil calibration points. We are currently working to improve sampling to include around 90% of living species as well as to incorporate more fossil calibration points.
We have used this work to provide a detailed phylogenetic framework for explicitly testing patterns of reproductive character evolution and its relationship to function. Beyond character evolution, we are using this work to explore the phylogenetic underpinnings of conifer biogeography and diversification; for example, we found consistent differences in divergence times between Southern and Northern Hemisphere conifer groups that suggest very different diversification histories. This pattern may reflect climatic differences over the Cenozoic, and particularly over the Neogene, that favored more recent diversification in the Northern Hemisphere and the persistence of older lineages in the Southern Hemisphere. Current work in this direction is focused on combining phylogenetic data, geographic range size data, and climate data to better understand the evolutionary history of conifer biogeographic structure.
Leslie, A.B., Beaulieu, J.M., Crane, P.R., Knopf, P., and Donoghue, M.J. 2015. Trait integration and macroevolutionary patterns in the pollination biology of conifers.
Evolution 69: 1573-1583
Leslie, A.B., Beaulieu, J.M., Crane, P.R., and Donoghue, M.J. 2013. Explaining the distribution of breeding and dispersal syndromes in conifers. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B 280: 20131812.
Leslie, A.B., Beaulieu, J.M., Rai, H.S., Crane, P.R., Donoghue, M.J., and Mathews, S. 2012. Hemisphere-scale differences in conifer evolutionary dynamics. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA 109: 1617-1622