Phylogeny and Evolution of Angiosperms is intended as a summary and review of the many advances made in plant phylogeny in recent years. It brings together the evidence from many disparate sources in a literature that has grown too big for any one scientist to keep abreast of any more, and elaborates the basis for recent changes in the classification of flowering plants. The same literature from which the picture of angiosperm phylogeny can be pieced together also provides insight into evolutionary trends in the biology of flowering plants. The book takes the opportunity to integrate this information with the phylogenetic evidence to examine evolutionary trends in, for example, floral diversification and genome size and structure.
The past two decades have seen tremendous advances in understanding plant phylogeny, including Darwin's “abominable mystery,” the origin of angiosperms. Most of this has come from molecular systematic studies. The pace of advances in angiosperm systematics has been remarkable, the envy of systematists working on many other groups of organisms. That this has been so is due largely to the cooperative nature of the many plant systematists, molecular and otherwise, who have contributed to collaborations around the world, as exemplified by the “Deep Green” Research Coordination Network (RCN) and its subsequent spin-offs “Deep Gene” and “Deep Time.”
The best-known cooperative effort in this regard was Chase and colleagues' (1993) publication on seed plant phylogeny, coordinated in large part by Mark Chase and Doug Soltis. These two, along with their coauthors here, Pamela Soltis and Peter Endress, have continued to encourage a collaborative atmosphere among plant systematists. A logical outcome of the cooperative efforts at phylogenetic research was the publication of a new classification of flowering plants based on this work, which itself resulted from the participation of many systematists (APG 1999, 2003). Although some may disagree with details of the decisions on ranking in this classification system (e.g., expansion of the Caryophyllales), virtually all plant systematists acknowledge that it is a vast improvement over the traditional “authority-based” classifications that had come before. Although the book under review uses the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group (APG) classification as a basis for its organization, it devotes several pages to a discussion of alternate, rank-free methods of classification based explicitly on phylogeny.
In several respects, this book is the companion volume to the APG classifications. The authors, who are among the principal contributors to those classifications, accept the APG system as the basis for taxonomic units discussed in the book. While the APG has provided a taxonomy for plant systematics for nearly a decade, the publications containing the classifications have been brief in the extreme, in terms of providing the underlying scientific evidence for the classifications in them. This book goes a long way toward supplying that basis, reviewing the literature and providing summary trees at the family level for the major lineages of angiosperms.
Angiosperms contain more than a quarter million recognized species, so it is useful to break the group down into large chunks for discussion. Orders and subclasses in traditional classifications have not held up well in molecular phylogenies, so newly recognized clades, some with names inherited from traditional systems, form the basis for chapters in the discussion of phylogeny here. Unfortunately, two significant portions of the angiosperm tree do not fit nicely into clearly defined lineages, so two chapters are devoted to paraphyletic grades, basal angiosperms and early-diverging eudicots (tricolpates). Each chapter includes a discussion of evolutionary trends in the group, as well as information on where the remaining problems lie.
Through detailed study of many plant species chosen carefully to represent critical lineages, Endress has been able to decipher the broad trends in floral evolution in angiosperms in a phylogenetic context.
For those systematists who have followed the phylogenetic literature and already have a good understanding of the phylogenetic picture, the input from Endress in the chapter on floral evolution may be the most significant contribution in this book. This chapter is written with the clarity and economy that characterize Endress's writings on floral evolution. Through detailed study of many plant species chosen carefully to represent critical lineages, Endress has been able to decipher the broad trends in floral evolution in angiosperms in a phylogenetic context.
With this book and the textbook Plant Systematics: A Phylogenetic Approach (Judd et al. 2002), Sinauer has now published the two most significant books on flowering plant phylogeny and systematics to come out in recent years. The two books overlap in some respects, but complement each other in many others. Both present a classification for flowering plants based on recent phylogenetic studies, and they summarize the underlying evidence. Both provide information on unifying traits for the major lineages of flowering plants and discuss trends in character evolution. However, the book by Judd and colleagues (2002) is constructed as a textbook for a traditional course in plant systematics, with an emphasis on family recognition, systematic methods, and evidence, whereas the book by Soltis and colleagues is more of a reference source for scientists and students looking for an entrée into the literature. As such, the book might be appropriate for an advanced course or graduate-level class on plant phylogeny, when supplemented with readings from the original literature.
The authors of Phylogeny and Evolution of Angiosperms owe a debt of gratitude to the collaborations of many plant systematists. Forty-two coauthors contributed to an earlier publication on phylogenetics (Chase and colleagues 1993), and the two iterations of the APG classification had 29 and 27 contributors, respectively. Many more have participated in Deep Green and subsequent RCNs. The bibliography is extensive, and the acknowledgments show that many of these scientists were consulted directly in the preparation of this volume. This book belongs on the bookshelf of any serious plant systematist—it will be a valuable resource for years to come.