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Marantaceae are the second largest family in the order Zingiberales, with approximately 31 genera and 535 species. Earlier studies based on morphological and molecular characters could not confidently determine the relationships among major lineages of the family, nor could they identify the basal branch of the family tree. Phylogenetic analyses of DNA sequence data from all three genomic compartments (chloroplast: matK, ndhF, rbcL, rps16 intron, and trnL-trnF intergenic spacer; mitochondrion: cox1; nucleus: ITS region and the 5'-end of 26S) for a restricted set of taxa were conducted under parsimony criteria to define the root node and to assess geographical distribution patterns. Our results support the recognition of five major lineages, most of which are restricted to a single geographical region (tropical America, tropical Africa, or tropical Asia). The phylogenies and character reconstructions (Fitch parsimony optimization, Bremer ancestral areas, and DIVA) support an African origin for the family, followed by a minimum of two dispersal events to the New World tropics and four or more dispersal events to the Asian tropics. Less likely are two alternative hypotheses: (1) vicariance of a western Gondwanan group (the Americas and Africa) followed by several dispersals to Asia and Africa, or (2) an American origin followed by several dispersals to Africa and Asia. The low specific diversity in Africa may be due to higher extinction rates as a result of shrinking lowland tropical forests during the Tertiary.

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© 2006 Linda M. Prince, W. John Kress

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