Phylogenetic relationships among 28 of the 68 species of the paleotropical genus Gaertnera (Rubiaceae) and two related genera were inferred from nucleotide sequence variation in four nuclear DNA (nDNA) markers: the internal transcribed spacers of nuclear rDNA (ITS), the large and small copies of phosphoenolpyruvate carboxylase (PepC-large and PepC-small), and triose phosphate isomerase (Tpi). Phylogenetic analysis of the combined nDNA dataset suggested that Gaertnera is monophyletic, but genetic variation among species was insufficient to reconstruct well-supported relationships within the genus. This was counter to expectations based on the very distinct morphologies and widespread distribution of the genus (West Africa to Sulawesi). Molecular clock analyses suggested variable dates of origin for Gaertnera depending upon the calibration method used. The most plausible calibration implies that Gaertnera migrated to Africa during the early Tertiary, possibly via a boreotropical land bridge and suggests that Gaertnera started to radiate 5.21 ± 0.14 million years ago. This implies that range expansion in the group has occurred via a number of long-distance dispersal events rather than vicariance. The molecular clock estimate in turn estimated an unusually rapid lineage diversification rate within the radiation of 0.717–0.832 species/million years, comparable to those estimated for radiations on oceanic islands. Although low interspecific competition levels may have contributed to the diversification of Gaertnera on Mauritius, the mechanisms driving the rapid radiation of the group in other parts of its range remain elusive.
Corresponding Editor: D. Baum