Pattern and timing of diversification in Yucca (Agavaceae): Specialized pollination does not escalate rates of diversification

Christopher Irwin Smith, Olle Pellmyr, David M. Althoff, Manuel Balcázar-Lara, James Leebens-Mack, Kari A. Segraves

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

89 Scopus citations


The yucca-yucca moth interaction is one of the most well-known and remarkable obligate pollination mutualisms, and is an important study system for understanding coevolution. Previous research suggests that specialist pollinators can promote rapid diversification in plants, and theoretical work has predicted that obligate pollination mutualism promotes cospeciation between plants and their pollinators, resulting in contemporaneous, parallel diversification. However, a lack of information about the age of Yucca has impeded efforts to test these hypotheses. We used analyses of 4322 AFLP markers and cpDNA sequence data representing six non-protein-coding regions (trnT-trnL, trnL, trnL intron, trnL-trnF, rps16 and clpP intron 2) from all 34 species to recover a consensus organismal phylogeny, and used penalized likelihood to estimate divergence times and speciation rates in Yucca. The results indicate that the pollination mutualism did not accelerate diversification, as Yucca diversity (34 species) is not significantly greater than that of its non-moth-pollinated sister group, Agave sensu latissimus (240 species). The new phylogenetic estimates also corroborate the suggestion that the plant-moth pollination mutualism has at least two origins within the Agavaceae. Finally, age estimates show significant discord between the age of Yucca (ca 6-10Myr) and the current best estimates for the age of their pollinators (32-40Myr).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)249-258
Number of pages10
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1632
StatePublished - Feb 7 2008


  • AFLP
  • Adaptive radiation
  • Agavaceae
  • Agave
  • Yucca
  • cpDNA

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • General Environmental Science
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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