Landcare Research - Manaaki Whenua

Landcare-Research -Manaaki Whenua

Phylogeny of New Zealand Plants

Depicting evolutionary relationships and classification of New Zealand plants.

One of the major contributions of Charles Darwin was the notion that all living things are united by the process of descent, and at one time they shared a common ancestor. A phylogeny is an evolutionary tree used to depict the pattern of relationships between a common ancestor and its descendants. A phylogeny provides a framework to understand evolutionary processes of diversification, dispersal and extinction. It also provides the basis to classify biodiversity in a fashion that is rigorous, reproducible and predictable.

Reconstructing phylogeny is a challenging proposition. From an infinite number of possibilities, only one path was taken by evolution. Systematists attempt to retrace the branching pattern in the evolutionary tree of life, and they accomplish this by studying the distribution of traits that are inherited from one generation to the next. Traditionally anatomy, morphology, cytology and secondary chemistry have been used, but DNA molecules are now routinely used as a valuable source of information. Random errors and mutations in the DNA molecule leave a fingerprint that provides evidence of relationships, and this can be used to trace the origins and diversification of the New Zealand flora.

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