For the first time, researchers have sequenced the genome of the entire oak family, about 260 oak species, UPI reports. The genomic mapping and fossil data analysis has revealed the family's 560 million-year evolutionary history and how the various oak species relate to each other.
The paper, which was published in the journal New Phytologist, shows that oaks have "repeatedly and globally diversified in response to ecological opportunity," according to Andrew Hipp, lead study author and senior scientist at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Illinois. The results could be used to inform conservation strategies and study other diverse tree families, UPI says.
The genomic analysis, which was done by Morton Arboretum researchers and their collaborators at 17 institutions around the world, shows that there is no single region of the oak genome that contains the tree family's evolutionary history. Instead, the researchers found that a small sections of the trees' genomes houses the evolutionary histories of single oak lineages, as well as the history of hybridization, UPI says.
The analysis also shows that oaks continued to diversify across the same regions as new species migrated, interbred, and hybridized with those that came before.
Study co-author Antoine Kremer, from the French National Institute for Agricultural Research, tells UPI that the paper shows "that the history of different [oak] lineages is driven by different sets of genes. The story of oak evolution is especially fascinating due to the ecological and morphological convergence in different oak lineages that cohabit on the same continent."