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Examining the needle in the haystack: Evolutionary relationships in the mistletoe genus Loranthus Jacq. (Loranthaceae)

Cite this dataset

Nickrent, Daniel et al. (2020). Examining the needle in the haystack: Evolutionary relationships in the mistletoe genus Loranthus Jacq. (Loranthaceae) [Dataset]. Dryad.


The genus Loranthus Jacq. (Loranthaceae) consists of ca. nine Old World species distributed from eastern Asia to Europe. Loranthus, the type of the family, has had a complex taxonomic history that continues today, partly because most mistletoes in the family have resided in this genus. For this reason, there are over 1800 Loranthus species names, the vast majority of which are synonyms for mistletoes in other genera. The present work sampled representatives of nine species considered bona fide members of the genus. Using complete plastome sequences, nuclear ribosomal DNA, and mitochondrial 26S rDNA, phylogenetic gene trees were generated to assess interspecific relationships. The Loranthus plastomes ranged in size from 121 to 125 kb and exhibited the quadripartite structure seen in most Santalales. These plastomes have lost or pseudogenized 24 genes, including all of the NADH dehydrogenase complex, thus reducing the genomes to ca. 90 functional genes. Cladistic analyses of morphological characters were conducted and these trees compared to the molecular trees, thus informing which taxonomic characters best define clades and characterize species within the genus. Two major clades in Loranthus were identified. The Europaeus clade includes the deciduous species L. europaeus, L. grewingkii, L. lambertianus, and L. tanakae mostly distributed above 30˚ N latitude. The Odoratus clade, mostly distributed below 30˚ N latitude, included L. guizhouensis, L. kaoi, L. odoratus, and L. pseudo-odoratus. The latter four species are genetically closely related, show percurrent (vs. pseudo-dichotomous) branching, and have evergreen leaves. Unisexual flowers have apparently evolved independently in each of the two clades. Future work should focus upon the species delimitation in the Odoratus clade and whether hybridization is occurring among any members.


DNA from the ingroup (Loranthus species) and outgroup (Cecarria, Moquiniella, and Nuytsia) mistletoe species was sequenced using NextGen technologies. Complete chloroplast genomes, the nuclear ribosomal cistron, and mitochonrial 26S rDNA were assembled and analyzed using maximum parsimony and maximum likelihood methods. The resulting phylogenetic trees were interpreted in terms of morphological characters (that were also analyzed cladistically), distribution and the presence/absence of deciduousness.

Usage notes

The dataset uploaded here consists of 9 Supplemental files:

Suppl File 1 NextGen Data.xlsx (Microsoft Excel file)

Suppl File 2 LorPlastome.nex (Nexus file, for phylogenetic analysis)

Suppl File 3 LorRibo.nex (Nexus file, for phylogenetic analysis)

Suppl File 4 mt26SLoranths.nex (Nexus file, for phylogenetic analysis)

Suppl File 5 Char comments.docx (Microsoft Word file)

Suppl File 6 Morphology.nex (Nexus file, for phylogenetic analysis)

Suppl File 7 Plastome Genes Summary.xlsx (Microsoft Excel file)

Suppl file 8 26STree.pdf (pdf file of the mt 26S rDNA phylogenetic tree)

Suppl File 9 Character trees.docx (Microsoft Word file, showing the evolution of each of the 21 morphological characters)


Austrian Academy of Sciences

National Science and Technology Council, Award: 106-2311-B-845-001-MY3

National Natural Science Foundation of China, Award: 31400520