Grasses through space and time: An overview of the biogeographical and macroevolutionary history of Poaceae

Timothy J. Gallaher, Paul M. Peterson, Robert J. Soreng, Fernando O. Zuloaga, De Zhu Li, Lynn G. Clark, Christopher D. Tyrrell, Cassiano A.D. Welker, Elizabeth A. Kellogg, Jordan K. Teisher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Grasses are widespread on every continent and are found in all terrestrial biomes. The dominance and spread of grasses and grassland ecosystems have led to significant changes in Earth′s climate, geochemistry, and biodiversity. The abundance of DNA sequence data, particularly chloroplast sequences, and advances in placing grass fossils within the family allows for a reappraisal of the family′s origins, timing, and geographic spread and the factors that have promoted diversification. We reconstructed a time-calibrated grass phylogeny and inferred ancestral areas using chloroplast DNA sequences from nearly 90% of extant grass genera. With a few notable exceptions, the phylogeny is well resolved to the subtribal level. The family began to diversify in the Early–Late Cretaceous (crown age of 98.54 Ma) on West Gondwana before the complete split between Africa and South America. Vicariance from the splitting of Gondwana may be responsible for the initial divergence in the family. However, Africa clearly served as the center of origin for much of the early diversification of the family. With this phylogenetic, temporal, and spatial framework, we review the evolution and biogeography of the family with the aim to facilitate the testing of biogeographical hypotheses about its origins, evolutionary tempo, and diversification. The current classification of the family is discussed with an extensive review of the extant diversity and distribution of species, molecular and morphological evidence supporting the current classification scheme, and the evidence informing our understanding of the biogeographical history of the family.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)522-569
Number of pages48
JournalJournal of Systematics and Evolution
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2022


  • Gondwana
  • ancestral area estimation
  • dispersal
  • historical biogeography
  • molecular dating
  • vicariance


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