Phylogenomic inference in extremis: A case study with mycoheterotroph plastomes

Vivienne K. Y. Lam, Hayley Darby, Vincent S. F. T. Merckx, Gwynne Lim, Tomohisa Yukawa, Kurt M. Neubig, J. Richard Abbott, Gemma E. Beatty, Jim Provan, Marybel Soto Gomez, Sean W. Graham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Citations (Scopus)
157 Downloads (Pure)


Premise of the Study
Phylogenomic studies employing large numbers of genes, including those based on plastid genomes (plastomes), are becoming common. Nonphotosynthetic plants such as mycoheterotrophs (which rely on root‐associated fungi for essential nutrients, including carbon) tend to have highly elevated rates of plastome evolution, substantial genome reduction, or both. Mycoheterotroph plastomes therefore provide excellent test cases for investigating how extreme conditions impact phylogenomic inference.

We used parsimony and likelihood analysis of protein‐coding gene sets from published and newly completed plastomes to infer the phylogenetic placement of taxa from the 10 angiosperm families in which mycoheterotrophy evolved.

Key Results
Despite multiple very long branches that reflect elevated substitution rates, and frequently patchy gene recovery due to genome reduction, inferred phylogenetic placements of most mycoheterotrophic lineages in DNA‐based likelihood analyses are both well supported and congruent with other studies. Amino‐acid‐based likelihood placements are broadly consistent with DNA‐based inferences, but extremely rate‐elevated taxa can have unexpected placements—albeit with weak support. In contrast, parsimony analysis is strongly misled by long‐branch attraction among many distantly related mycoheterotrophic monocots.

Mycoheterotrophic plastomes provide challenging cases for phylogenomic inference, as substitutional rates can be elevated and genome reduction can lead to sparse gene recovery. Nonetheless, diverse likelihood frameworks provide generally well‐supported and mutually concordant phylogenetic placements of mycoheterotrophs, consistent with recent phylogenetic studies and angiosperm‐wide classifications. Previous predictions of parallel photosynthesis loss within families are supported for Burmanniaceae, Ericaceae, Gentianaceae, and Orchidaceae. Burmanniaceae and Thismiaceae should not be combined as a single family in Dioscoreales.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)480-494
Number of pages15
JournalAmerican Journal of Botany
Issue number3
Early online date05 May 2018
Publication statusPublished - 10 May 2018


  • Corseaceae
  • incomplete multigene alignments
  • Iridaceae
  • long-branch attraction
  • mycoheterotrophy
  • orchids
  • Petrosaviaceae
  • photosynthesis loss
  • Polygalaceae
  • Triuidaceae


Dive into the research topics of 'Phylogenomic inference in extremis: A case study with mycoheterotroph plastomes'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this