BACKGROUND AND AIMS: The genus Erodium is a common feature of Mediterranean-type climates throughout the world, but the Mediterranean Basin has significantly higher diversity than other areas. The aim here is to reveal the biogeographical history of the genus and the causes behind the evolution of the uneven distribution.
METHODS: Seventy-eight new nrITS sequences were incorporated with existing plastid data to explore the phylogenetic relationships and biogeography of Erodium using several reconstruction methods. Divergence times for major clades were calculated and contrasted with other previously published information. Furthermore, topological and temporal diversification rate shift analyses were employed using these data.
KEY RESULTS: Phylogenetic relationships among species are widely congruent with previous plastid reconstructions, which refute the classical taxonomical classification. Biogeographical reconstructions point to Asia as the ancestral area of Erodium, arising approx. 18 MYA. Four incidences of intercontinental dispersal from the Mediterranean Basin to similar climates are demonstrated. Increases in diversification were present in two independent Erodium lineages concurrently. Two bursts of diversification (3 MYA and 0·69 MYA) were detected only in the Mediterranean flora.
CONCLUSIONS: Two lineages diverged early in the evolution of the genus Erodium: (1) subgenus Erodium plus subgenus Barbata subsection Absinthioidea and (2) the remainder of subgenus Barbata. Dispersal across major water bodies, although uncommon, has had a major influence on the distribution of this genus and is likely to have played as significant role as in other, more easily dispersed, genera. Establishment of Mediterranean climates has facilitated the spread of the genus and been crucial in its diversification. Two, independent, rapid radiations in response to the onset of drought and glacial climate change indicate putative adaptive radiations in the genus.