Coalescent versus Concatenation Methods and the Placement of Amborella as Sister to Water Lilies
The molecular era has fundamentally reshaped our knowledge of the evolution and diversification of angiosperms. One outstanding question is the phylogenetic placement of Amborella trichopoda Baill., commonly thought to represent the first lineage of extant angiosperms. Here, we leverage publicly available data and provide a broad coalescentbased species tree estimation of 45 seed plants. By incorporating 310 nuclear genes, our coalescent analyses strongly support a clade containing Amborella
... s water lilies (i.e., Nymphaeales) that is sister to all other angiosperms across different nucleotide rate partitions. Our results also show that commonly applied concatenation methods produce strongly supported, but incongruent placements of Amborella: slow-evolving nucleotide sites corroborate results from coalescent analyses, whereas fast-evolving sites place Amborella alone as the first lineage of extant angiosperms. We further explored the performance of coalescent versus concatenation methods using nucleotide sequences simulated on (i) the two alternate placements of Amborella with branch lengths and substitution model parameters estimated from each of the 310 nuclear genes and (ii) three hypothetical species trees that are topologically identical except with respect to the degree of deep coalescence and branch lengths. Our results collectively suggest that the Amborella alone placement inferred using concatenation methods is likely misled by fast-evolving sites. This appears to be exacerbated by the combination of long branches in stem group angiosperms, Amborella, and Nymphaeales with the short internal branch separating Amborella and Nymphaeales. In contrast, coalescent methods appear to be more robust to elevated substitution rates.