Grosse-Veldmann, B; Nürk, NM; Smissen, R; Breitwieser, I; Quandt, D; Weigend, M: Pulling the sting out of nettle systematics — A comprehensive phylogeny of the genus Urtica L. (Urticaceae), Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 102(1), 9-19 (2016), doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2016.05.019

The genus Urtica L. is subcosmopolitan, found on all continents (except Antarctica) and most extratropical islands and ranges from Alaska to Patagonia, Spitzbergen to the Cape and Camtschatka to the subantarctic islands. However, throughout its geographical range morphologically nearly indistinguishable species are found alongside morphologically quite disparate species, with the overall diversity of morphological characters extremely limited. The systematics of Urtica have puzzled scientists for the past 200 years and no single comprehensive attempt at understanding infrageneric relationships has been published in the past, nor are species delimitations unequivocally established. We here provide the first comprehensive phylogeny of the genus including 61 of the 63 species recognized, represented by 144 ingroup accessions and 14 outgroup taxa. The markers ITS1–5.8S–ITS2, psbA–trnH intergenic spacer, trnL–trnF and trnS–trnG are used. The phylogeny is well resolved. The eastern Asian Zhengyia shennongensis T. Deng, D.G. Zhang & H. Sun is retrieved as sister to Urtica. Within Urtica, a clade comprising the western Eurasian species U. pilulifera L. and U. neubaueri Chrtek is sister to all other species of the genus. The phylogenetic analyses retrieve numerous well-supported clades, suggesting previously unsuspected relationships and implying that classically used taxonomic characters such as leaf morphology and growth habit are highly homoplasious. Species delimitation is problematical, and several accessions assigned to Urtica dioica L. (as subspecies) are retrieved in widely different places in the phylogeny. The genus seems to have undergone numerous dispersal-establishment events both between continents and onto different islands. Three recent species radiations are inferred, one in America centered in the Andes, one in New Zealand, and one in northern Eurasia which includes Urtica dioica s.str. sensu Henning et al. (2014). The present study provides the basis of a critical re-examination of species limits and taxonomy, but also of the dispersal ecology of this widespread plant group and an in-depth study of the three clades with recent radiations.

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