Is Drosera meristocaulis a pygmy sundew? evidence of a long-distance dispersal between Western Australia and northern South America
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Background and aims South America and Oceania possess numerous floristic similarities, often confirmed by morphological and molecular data. The carnivorous Drosera meristocaulis (Droseraceae), endemic to the Neblina highlands of northern South America, was known to share morphological characters with the pygmy sundews of Drosera sect. Bryastrum, which are endemic to Australia and New Zealand. The inclusion of D. meristocaulis in a molecular phylogenetic analysis may clarify its systematic position and offer an opportunity to investigate character evolution in Droseraceae and phylogeographic patterns between South America and Oceania. Methods Drosera meristocaulis was included in a molecular phylogenetic analysis of Droseraceae, using nuclear internal transcribed spacer (ITS) and plastid rbcL and rps16 sequence data. Pollen of D. meristocaulis was studied using light microscopy and scanning electron microscopy techniques, and the karyotype was inferred from root tip meristem. Key Results The phylogenetic inferences (maximum parsimony, maximum likelihood and Bayesian approaches) substantiate with high statistical support the inclusion of sect. Meristocaulis and its single species, D. meristocaulis, within the Australian Drosera clade, sister to a group comprising species of sect. Bryastrum. A chromosome number of 2n = approx. 32–36 supports the phylogenetic position within the Australian clade. The undivided styles, conspicuous large setuous stipules, a cryptocotylar (hypogaeous) germination pattern and pollen tetrads with aperture of intermediate type 7–8 are key morphological traits shared between D. meristocaulis and pygmy sundews of sect. Bryastrum from Australia and New Zealand. Conclusions The multidisciplinary approach adopted in this study (using morphological, palynological, cytotaxonomic and molecular phylogenetic data) enabled us to elucidate the relationships of the thus far unplaced taxon D. meristocaulis. Long-distance dispersal between southwestern Oceania and northern South America is the most likely scenario to explain the phylogeographic pattern revealed.