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Abstract

Agavaceae are an American family that comprises nine genera and ca. 300 species distributed in arid and semiarid environments, mainly in Mexico. The family is very successful and displays a wide array of ecological, reproductive, and morphological adaptations. Many of its members play important roles as keystone species, because they produce abundant resources during the reproductive season. In this paper we analyze the current knowledge about the pollination ecology of the different genera in the family and the role that pollination systems have played in the ecological and phylogenetic success of the group. After providing an overview of each of the genera in the family, we discuss in detail aspects of the reproductive ecology of species in the genus Agave s.l., which is composed of ca. 208 species and includes subgenera of Agave (Agave and Littaea), Manfreda, Polianthes, and Prochnyanthes. Finally, we describe the results of analyses to test the hypothesis that there has been an adaptive radiation in the genus Agave. Using chloroplast and nuclear DNA sequences we estimate the age of the Agavaceae family and the genus Agave to be 12-26 millions of years ago (MYA) and 10 MYA, respectively, and show that mean rates of diversification were higher in the genus Agave than the genus Yucca. The values we report for rates of diversification in Agave s.l. are high when compared to other radiations in plants and animals. We suggest that the desertification of North America, which started ca. 15 MY A was critical in the radiation of agaves and that the generalist pollination system of Agave has been more successful in generating new species than the extreme specialization of Yucca.

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© 2006 Martha Rocha, Sara V. Good-Avila, Francisco Molina-Freaner, Hector T. Arita, Amanda Castillo, Abisai Garcia-Mendoza, Arturo Silva-Montellano, Brandon S. Gaut, Valeria Souza, Luis E. Eguiarte

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

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