Systematics and Evolution of Australian Seagrasses in a Global Context

  • Michelle WaycottEmail author
  • Edward Biffin
  • Donald H. Les


Seagrasses have evolved independently at least four times throughout their evolutionary history. All seagrasses are members of the monocot order Alismatales. A new molecular phylogenetic analysis, applying a molecular clock based on recently redefined fossil evidence, provides a framework for describing the timing and relationships of seagrass lineage evolution. The deeper time phylogenetic history of the marine monocotyledons dates back approximately 105 million years ago (Ma) to an ancestor from which two significant lineages evolved more recently. The marine Hydrocharitaceae (Enhalus, Thalassia and Halophila) are a tropical globally distributed lineage which include Australian endemic species of Halophila. The Cymodoceaceae lineage and the Zosteraceae/Potamogetonaceae diverged some ~67 Ma but in each lineage the genera arose more recently. Most seagrass species appear to have evolved in the last ~5 Ma, some more recently. The extant distribution of species will not be the result of vicariance but of long distance connectivity at a global scale. The most significant implication of these results to global biogeography is that there must have been, and likely continues to be, ongoing long distance dispersal leading to the current widespread distributions of species and congeners. The Australian seagrass flora represents all the major evolutionary lineages of seagrasses except the northern hemisphere Phyllospadix, a major clade of Zostera and some of the forms of Halophila. Pollination efficiency is a significant potential driver in the evolution of filiform pollen, and is likely associated with the single seeded fruit in water pollinated species of seagrass in the lineages of seagrass that exhibit this character.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michelle Waycott
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    Email author
  • Edward Biffin
    • 3
  • Donald H. Les
    • 4
  1. 1.School of Biological SciencesThe University of AdelaideAdelaideAustralia
  2. 2.Environment InstituteThe University of AdelaideAdelaideAustralia
  3. 3.State Herbarium of South Australia, Department of Environment, Water and Natural ResourcesAdelaideAustralia
  4. 4.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyUniversity of ConnecticutStorrsUSA

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