Guided by systematic studies on Melpomene, we tested the monophyly of the genus by analyzing sequences of cpDNA (atpβ, rbcL) and morphological characters for 24 of the 29 recognized species. The atpβ data did not yield any resolution of the investigated group. The other data sets each supported the monophyly of the genus, as did all data combined, and indicate it to be sister to the Lellingeria apiculata group as proposed in previous studies. While the morphologically distinct M. leptostoma and M. gracilis are basal lineages with long branch lengths, most of the relationships within the core genus are weakly supported and have very short branch lengths. This indicates a recent radiation of the genus in the northern Andes, its center of diversity, apparently under the influence of the fast uplift of the mountain range and of glacial fluctuations of the vegetation zones, with subsequent dispersals to the Guyana Highlands, the Brazilian shield, and Africa.
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