Premise of the Study
Our current understanding of flowering plant phylogeny provides an excellent framework for exploring various aspects of character evolution through comparative analyses. However, attempts to synthesize this phylogenetic framework with extensive morphological data sets have been surprisingly rare. Here, we explore character evolution in Asteridae (asterids), a major angiosperm clade, using an extensive morphological data set and a well‐resolved phylogeny.
We scored 15 phenotypic characters (spanning chemistry, vegetative anatomy, and floral, fruit, and seed features) across 248 species for ancestral state reconstruction using a phylogenetic framework based on 73 plastid genes and the same 248 species.
Iridoid production, unitegmic ovules, and cellular endosperm were all reconstructed as synapomorphic for Asteridae. Sympetaly, long associated with asterids, shows complex patterns of evolution, suggesting it arose several times independently within the clade. Stamens equal in number to the petals is likely a synapomorphy for Gentianidae, a major asterid subclade. Members of Lamianae, a major gentianid subclade, are potentially diagnosed by adnate stamens, unilacunar nodes, and simple perforation plates.
The analyses presented here provide a greatly improved understanding of character evolution across Asteridae, highlighting multiple characters potentially synapomorphic for major clades. However, several important parts of the asterid tree are poorly known for several key phenotypic features (e.g., degree of petal fusion, integument number, nucellus type, endosperm type, iridoid production). Further morphological, anatomical, developmental, and chemical investigations of these poorly known asterids are critical for a more detailed understanding of early asterid evolution.