The placement of Hyphaene in the palm subfamily Coryphoideae was first proposed by Uhl and Dransfield (1987) and supported strongly in later studies relying on molecular phylogenetics (Dransfield et al., 2008). Modern molecular phylogenies confirm Hyphaene as a highly supported monophyletic group (Bayton, 2005; Asmussen et al., 2006; Baker et al., 2009, Fig. 1), with moderate to high support for a sister-relationship to the monotypic Medemia, endemic to the Egyptian Nubian Desert and north-eastern Sudan, (Bayton, 2005; Asmussen et al., 2006; Baker et al., 2009).
Fig. 1. Phylogenetic position of Hyphaene within Coryphoideae. Strict consensus of the 46 080 trees from the supermatrix analysis of all palm genera (tree length = 15 173, CI = 0.41, RI = 0.62). Values above branches are BPs (>50%). Adapted from Baker et al. (2009).
An NGS capture phylogenetic approach is now being undertaken at the laboratory of the Unité de Phylogénie et Génétique Moléculaires of the Conservatory and Botanic Gardens of Geneva. This work is leaded by Dr. Mathieu Perret, Dr. Yamama Naciri and Dr. Camille Christe, technically supported by Mrs. Regine Niba (Figs. 2-4). The first 60 DNA samples include 6 species of Hyphaene represented by specimens from more than 12 African countries. The sister group Medemia and other taxa of Borasseae (i.e. Borassus, Bismarkia) and other Coryphoideae have been also included in these first analyses. A simplified working pipeline proposed by Dr. Camille Christe is presented in Fig. 6.
Fig. 2. Camille Christe and Regine Niba are undertaking most of the lab work associated to the project. The well-equipped laboratory at La Console is ready for the challenging Hyphaene NGS phylogenetic approach.
Fig. 3. Extraction of DNA from some Hyphaene species for which the amount originally extracted was lower than necessary. The extraction room has all the necessary equipments and of course, the technical skills of Regine!.
Fig. 4. Carefull manipulation of the specimens is necessary to extract the DNA. Althought it is straight forward, the protocol is long and requires of full concentration.
Fig. 5. DNA extraction of the first 60 Hyphaene samples. It worked well although some fine-tuning is necessary.
Fig. 6. NGS pipeline proposed for the Hyphaene project.
Available phylogenies support a sister relationship between Hyphaene and Medemia (Fig. 7) within the tribe Hyphaeninae (sensu Dransfield et al., 2008). Medemia (1-2 spp.), longtime believed to be extinct, was rediscovered but the populations remain heavily threatened. This palm is endemic to the Nubian Desert, in the border between Egypt and Sudan. This palm can be distinguish from Hyphaene by its hastula completely lacking and its petioles much less armed than in Hyphaene. More recently Morcote, Raz and Stauffer (Project on African Phytoliths) found morphological differences between the phytoliths of Medemia and those observed in Hyphaene (Fig. 8). Leaf surfaces (presence vs. absence of trichomes) in Borasseae seems to be informative to taxonomically separate some genera and this is a good character to observe in living and herbarium material. Whereas the presence of conspicuos trichomes is evident in Hyphaene and Medemia , they are completely absent in Borassus and Bismarkia (Fig. 9).
Fig. 7 Medemia argun. Growth habit in southern Egypt (Photo Bill Baker); detail of petiole (top right); detail of fruits (bottom-right, specimen at the K Herbarium).
Fig. 9. Phytoliths in Hyphaeninae. Medemia argun (left); Hyphaene coriacea (right). Project "Phytoliths in African Palms" (Gaspar Morcote, Fred Stauffer and Lauren Raz - Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Conservatory and Botanic Gardens of Geneva).
Fig. 9. Leaf surfaces in Borasseae. The presence of conspicuos trichomes is evident in Hyphaene and Medemia, whereas they are completely absent in Borassus and Bismarkia. Upper images were captured with light microscopy whereas lower images were captured with Scanning Electronic Microscopy (Dr. André Piuz, Natural History Museum of Geneva)