Journal: Molecular Phyliogenetics and Evolution
Volume: 143
Pages: 106685


The granitic islands of the Seychelles harbor about 268 native angiosperm species, with 28% being endemics there. The Seychelles biota contains a mix of ancient taxa with Gondwanan origins and young taxa that arrived there via dispersals. We investigate the phylogenetic position of an enigmatic, critically endangered, Seychellean endemic of the coffee family (Rubiaceae), Psathura/Psychotria sechellarum, and assess whether its presence on the granitic islands of the Seychelles is the result of vicariance or long-distance dispersal. Phylogenetic relationships of the family were reconstructed based on the Bayesian and maximum-likelihood phylogenetic analyses of sequence data from five plastid markers of 107 terminals. Divergence times were estimated using a Bayesian-based method. Psathura/Psychotria sechellarum is distantly related to Psychotria s.l. (including Psathura), and is strongly supported as sister to the Central African genus Colletoecema. Their striking morphological differences, coupled with their geographic separation and genetic distinctness, support the recognition of the new genus Seychellea and new tribe Seychelleeae to accommodate the Seychellean species. The Colletoecema-Seychellea clade constitutes an early-divergent lineage in the subfamily Rubioideae, with an old stem and a young crown ages estimated to be in the Late Cretaceous and late Oligocene-early Pliocene, respectively. Colletoecema diverged from Seychellea in the late Oligocene-early Pliocene and their respective crown ages are inferred to be late Miocene-middle Pleistocene and Pleistocene, respectively. The ancestor of the two genera was likely present in Africa, and reached the Seychelles via avian dispersal. Unlike Colletoecema with three species, Seychellea is monospecific, with very few individuals left in the wild. The species should be a top candidate for conservation priority, as its extinction would cause loss of genetic diversity of this entire lineage.