Origin of horsetails and the role of whole-genome duplication in plant macroevolution

James W. Clark, Mark N. Puttick, Philip C.J. Donoghue

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Whole-genome duplication (WGD) has occurred commonly in land plant evolution and it is often invoked as a causal agent in diversification, phenotypic and developmental innovation, as well as conferring extinction resistance. The ancient and iconic lineage of Equisetum is no exception, where WGD has been inferred to have occurred prior to the Cretaceous-Palaeogene (K-Pg) boundary, coincident with WGD events in angiosperms. In the absence of high species diversity, WGD in Equisetum is interpreted to have facilitated the long-term survival of the lineage. However, this characterization remains uncertain as these analyses of the Equisetum WGD event have not accounted for fossil diversity. Here, we analyse additional available transcriptomes and summarize the fossil record. Our results confirm support for at least one WGD event shared among the majority of extant Equisetum species. Furthermore, we use improved dating methods to constrain the age of gene duplication in geological time and identify two successive Equisetum WGD events. The two WGD events occurred during the Carboniferous and Triassic, respectively, rather than in association with the K-Pg boundary. WGD events are believed to drive high rates of trait evolution and innovations, but analysed trends of morphological evolution across the historical diversity of Equisetum provide little evidence for further macroevolutionary consequences following WGD. WGD events cannot have conferred extinction resistance to the Equisetum lineage through the K-Pg boundary since the ploidy events occurred hundreds of millions of years before this mass extinction and we find evidence of extinction among fossil polyploid Equisetum lineages. Our findings precipitate the need for a review of the proposed roles of WGDs in biological innovation and extinction survival in angiosperm and non-angiosperm lineages alike.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20191662
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalProceedings. Biological sciences
Issue number1914
Early online date30 Oct 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2019


  • extinction
  • ferns
  • genome duplication
  • macroevolution
  • polyploidy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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