Contemporaneous and recent radiations of the world's major succulent plant lineages

Mónica Arakaki, Pascal Antoine Christin, Reto Nyffeler, Anita Lendel, Urs Eggli, R. Matthew Ogburn, Elizabeth Spriggs, Michael J. Moore, Erika J. Edwards

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

394 Scopus citations


The cacti are one of the most celebrated radiations of succulent plants. There has been much speculation about their age, but progress in dating cactus origins has been hindered by the lack of fossil data for cacti or their close relatives. Using a hybrid phylogenomic approach, we estimated that the cactus lineage diverged from its closest relatives ≈35 million years ago (Ma). However, major diversification events in cacti were more recent, with most species-rich clades originating in the late Miocene, ≈10-5 Ma. Diversification rates of several cactus lineages rival other estimates of extremely rapid speciation in plants. Major cactus radiations were contemporaneous with those of South African ice plants and North American agaves, revealing a simultaneous diversification of several of the world's major succulent plant lineages across multiple continents. This short geological time period also harbored the majority of origins of C4 photosynthesis and the global rise of C4 grasslands. A global expansion of arid environments during this time could have provided new ecological opportunity for both succulent and C4 plant syndromes. Alternatively, recent work has identified a substantial decline in atmospheric CO2 ≈15-8 Ma, which would have strongly favored C4 evolution and expansion of C4-dominated grasslands. Lowered atmospheric CO2 would also substantially exacerbate plant water stress in marginally arid environments, providing preadapted succulent plants with a sharp advantage in a broader set of ecological conditions and promoting their rapid diversification across the landscape.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8379-8384
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number20
StatePublished - 17 May 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • CAM photosynthesis
  • Climate change
  • Paleobotany


Dive into the research topics of 'Contemporaneous and recent radiations of the world's major succulent plant lineages'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this