Major advances in our understanding of New World Morning Glories

March 17, 2020

A major advance in revealing the unknown plant diversity on planet Earth is made with a new monograph, published in the open-access, peer-reviewed journal PhytoKeys. The global-wide study, conducted by researchers at the University of Oxford, lists details about each of the 425 New World species in the largest genus within the family of morning glories, thanks to an all-round approach combining standard, modern and new-generation identification techniques.

The family of morning glories, also known as bindweeds, whose scientific name is Convolvulaceae, includes prominent members like the sweet potato and ornamental plants such as the moonflower and the blue dawn flower. In fact, one of the key conclusions, made in the present work, is that within this plant group there are many other species, besides the sweet potato, that evolved storage roots long before modern humans appeared on Earth. Furthermore, most of those are yet to be evaluated for economic purposes.

To make their findings, the research team of John Wood, Dr Pablo Muñoz Rodríguez, Bethany R.M. Williams and Prof Robert Scotland applied the "foundation monograph" concept that they had developed for similarly diverse and globally distributed, yet largely understudied groups. Usually, such groups with hundreds of species have never been surveyed across their entire geographical range, which in turn results in the existence of many overlooked new species or species wrongly named.

As a result, the monograph adds six new to science species and establishes nine new subspecies, previously recognised as either distinct species or varieties. The publication also cites all countries where any of those 425 morning glories occurs. In order to provide detailed knowledge about their identities and ecologies, the authors also produced over 200 illustrative figures: both line drawings and photos.

In their study, the scientists also investigate poorly known phenomena concerning the genus. For instance, the majority of the plants appear to originate from two very large centres, from where they must have consequently radiated: the Parana region of South America and the Caribbean Islands. Today, however, a considerable amount of those species can be found all around the globe. Interestingly, the team also notes a strong trend for individual species or clades (separate species with a common ancestor) to inhabit disjunct localities at comparable latitudes on either side of the tropics in North America and South America, but not the Equator.

The monograph exemplifies the immense value of natural history collections. Even though the researchers have conducted fieldwork, most of their research is based on herbarium specimens. They have even managed to apply DNA sequencing to specimens over 100 years old. The publication also provides detailed information about the characteristics, distribution and ecology of all the species. It is illustrated with over 200 figures, both line drawings and photos.

"A major challenge in monographing these groups is the size of the task given the number of species, their global distribution and extensive synonymy, the large and increasing number of specimens, the numerous and dispersed herbaria where specimens are housed and an extensive, scattered and often obscure literature," comment the scientists.

"Unlike traditional taxonomic approaches, the 'foundation monograph' relies on a combination of standard techniques with the use of online digital images and molecular sequence data. Thereby, the scientists are able to focus on species-level taxonomic problems across the entire distribution range of individual species," they explained.
-end-
In a separate paper, published in Nature Plants last November, the research team provides further insights into how they have assembled the monograph and include all the molecular sequence data and phylogenetics produced during their work.

Original source:

Wood JR.I, Muñoz-Rodríguez P, Williams BR.M, Scotland RW (2020) A foundation monograph of Ipomoea (Convolvulaceae) in the New World. PhytoKeys 143: 1-823. https://doi.org/10.3897/phytokeys.143.32821

Pensoft Publishers

Related Common Ancestor Articles from Brightsurf:

DNA from an ancient, unidentified ancestor was passed down to humans living today
A new analysis of ancient genomes suggests that different branches of the human family tree interbred multiple times, and that some humans carry DNA from an archaic, unknown ancestor.

When three species of human ancestor walked the Earth
In a paper published this week in Science, an international team of scientists share details of the most ancient fossil of Homo erectus known and discuss how these new findings are forcing us to rewrite a part of our species' evolutionary history.

Our direct human ancestor Homo erectus is older than we thought
A Homo erectus skullcap found northwest of Johannesburg in South Africa has been identified as the oldest to date, in research published in Science.

Ancestor of all animals identified in Australian fossils
A team led by UC Riverside geologists has discovered the first ancestor on the family tree that contains most animals today, including humans.

Discovery of bacterial ancestor yields new insight on calcium channels
The discovery of a calcium channel that is likely a 'missing link' in the evolution of mammalian calcium channels has been reported today in the open-access journal eLife.

Fossil suggests apes, old world monkeys moved in opposite directions from shared ancestor
In terms of their body plan, Old World monkeys -- a group that includes primates like baboons and macaques -- are generally considered more similar to ancestral species than apes are.

Red algae thrive despite ancestor's massive loss of genes
You'd think that losing 25 percent of your genes would be a big problem for survival.

What the noggin of modern humans' ancestor would have looked like
Despite having lived about 300,000 years ago, the oldest ancestor of all members of our species had a surprisingly modern skull -- as suggested by a model created by CNRS researcher Aurélien Mounier and Cambridge University professor Marta Mirazón Lahr.

A face for Lucy's ancestor
Australopithecus anamensis is the earliest-known species of Australopithecus and widely accepted as the progenitor of 'Lucy's' species, Australopithecus afarensis.

A 3.8-million-year-old fossil from Ethiopia reveals the face of Lucy's ancestor
Cleveland Museum of Natural History Curator of Physical Anthropology Dr.

Read More: Common Ancestor News and Common Ancestor Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.