Taiwan originates from the continental Taiwan-Ryukyu Archipelago, lying on the western rim of the Pacific Ocean approximately 150 km from the southeastern coast of China, separated by the Taiwan Strait. Taiwan was repeatedly connected and disconnected during the glacial and interglacial periods of the Pleistocene glaciation cycles, which provided opportunities for plant colonization and isolation between the islands and the mainland1,2. In addition, Taiwan provided refugia for northern species that migrated south during the glacial periods. These striking biogeographic events and topographic heterogeneity in the island’s environment resulted in floristic affinity between Taiwan and mainland China, as well as the formation of unique floristic elements in Taiwan. For example, approximately 52% of the ca. 4,000 native vascular plant species are closely related to the mainland China, while ca. 26% of natives (1,067 taxa) are endemic to Taiwan3. A combination of multiple colonization events from geographically close source areas, followed by subsequent speciation on the island without splitting events (i.e., phyletic speciation), and in situ adaptive and nonadaptive speciation after colonization on island likely explains the high endemism of flora in Taiwan2. In particular, several distinctive vegetation zones provided opportunities for the diversification of several rich groups of endemic species, ranging from tropical and coastal evergreen forests, to subalpine shrubs and alpine tundra4,5,6.

The genus Rubus L., with ca. 700 species, is distributed worldwide and is abundant in the Northern Hemisphere, with very few species occurring in the Southern Hemisphere7. Focke established the widely adopted Rubus infrageneric classification system that recognizes 12 subgenera8,9,10, and several attempts have been made to unravel the overall phylogeny within the genus as well as the role of hybridization events11,12,13,14,15,16. Approximately 41 species from three subgenera are currently recognized in Taiwan; i.e., Chamaebatus (3 species), Idaoeobatus (27 species), and Malochobatus (11 species). Among these species, approximately 40% (15 species) are considered endemic to Taiwan, while the remaining species occur in mainland China (23 species; 57.5%), Japan (12 species; 30%), and the Philippines (6 species; 15%)17. Despite previous floristic and cytological studies, as well as reports of new natural hybrid taxa6,17,18, very little is known regarding the evolutionary history among Rubus species in Taiwan and their phylogenetic relationships to congeneric species in continental China and adjacent countries.

Chloroplasts are essential organelles in plant cells that serve as metabolic centers in green plants and encode many key proteins that are involved in photosynthesis and other metabolite syntheses. Phylogenetic relationships of major plant groups at various taxonomic levels based on plastid genomes have been greatly elucidated by sequence polymorphisms or by hypervariable microsatellites (simple sequence repeats) as efficient genetic markers19,20,21. In addition, several chloroplast gene loci (e.g., matK and rbcL) have proven useful as DNA barcode markers for species discrimination that provide valuable information to develop conservation strategies and biodiversity assessments22,23. Achieving adequate resolutions on the basis of the phylogenetic analyses of several concatenated regions has been difficult, especially for recently diverged plant species, because of limited sequence variations in several coding and noncoding regions of chloroplast DNA24,25,26. With the advent of next-generation sequencing (NGS) tools, considerable genome-wide variations in phylogenomics have significantly enhanced our understanding of patterns and processes in plant evolution, especially at lower taxonomic levels27,28,29,30,31,32. Since the first report of three partial Rubus plastomes being part of the Rosaceae phylogeny33, several complete chloroplast genomes belonging to different subgenera, i.e., Anoplobatus and Idaeobatus, have been recently reported, and useful hotspot regions for phylogenetic analysis have been suggested34,35,36,37,38,39. Our knowledge of plastome structure and evolution was primarily synthesized from the subgenus Idaeobatus from the infrageneric classification system of Rubus by Focke8,9,10, with the exception of two species from subg. Anoplobatus and one species from subg. Cylactis, based on species from Korea and China. Thus, we know very little regarding the plastome structure and evolution of other subgenera and also from other geographical regions in East Asia.

Therefore, we aimed to determine the complete plastomes of eight Rubus species endemic to Taiwan, including six species from subgenus Idaeobatus and two species from subgenus Malacobatus. Although few other endemic species of Rubus belong to subgenus Chamaebatus, we were not able to include any representatives in current study. The comparative analysis of these eight plastomes, alongside the other previously reported plastomes within the genus will allow us to elucidate the genome structure, gene order, and gene contents, eventually providing an opportunity to study plastid evolution across groups. In addition, this study will shed light on the plastome structure and evolution of insular endemic species of the Taiwan-Ryukyu Archipelago. Lastly, the results from this study will aid in the development of useful chloroplast markers from hotspot regions, facilitating increased resolution of phylogenetic relationships among closely related species of Rubus.


Genome size and features

For the first time, the complete plastomes of eight endemic Rubus species from Taiwan were characterized: six species from subg. Idaeobatus and two species from subg. Malachobatus. The size of complete plastome sequences ranged from 155,566 bp (R. rubroangustifolius) to 156,236 bp (R. laciniatostipulatus). The plastomes were highly conserved with no structural variations or content rearrangements despite their representations from different subgenera (Fig. 1). The eight plastomes of Taiwanese endemic Rubus contained 131 genes: 84 protein-coding, eight ribosomal RNA, and 37 transfer RNA genes. Compared with previously reported GC content of Rubus plastomes (37.1%)35,36,37,38,39, the overall GC content ranged from 37.0% (R. glandulosopunctatus, R. rubroangustifolius, and R. taiwanicolus) to 37.3% (R. incanus, R. parviaralifolius, and R. taitoensis), summarized in Table 1. A total of 17 genes were duplicated in the inverted repeat regions, including seven tRNA, four rRNA, and six protein-coding genes. Fifteen genes (ndhA, ndhB, petB, petD, rpl2, rpl16, rpoC1, rps12, rps16, trnA-UGC, trnG-UCC, trnI-GAU, trnK-UUU, trnL-UAA, and trnV-UAC) contained one intron, whereas clpP and ycf3 each contained two introns.

Figure 1
figure 1

The eigth endemic Rubus plastomes in Taiwan. The genes located outside of the circle are transcribed clockwise, while those located inside are transcribed counterclockwise. The gray bar area in the inner circle denotes the guanine–cytosine (GC) content of the genome, whereas the lighter gray area indicates the adenosine–thymine (AT) content of the genome. Large single copy, small single copy, and inverted repeat are indicated with LSC, SSC, and IR, respectively. Gene map was generated with the OrganellarGenomeDRAW (OGDRAW) 1.3.1. (

Table 1 Summary of the characteristics of the eight endemic Rubus chloroplast genomes in Taiwan.

A partial ycf1 gene (1,107–1,248 bp) was located in the IRb/SSC junction region, while the complete ycf1 gene (5,820–5,862 bp) was located in the IR region at the SSC/IRa junction. The infA gene of the eight Taiwanese endemic Rubus plastomes located in the LSC region became a pseudogene. Interestingly, the highly conserved group II intron of atpF was lost, and a frameshift mutation via ATT deletion of the ndhF gene was identified in R. kawakmii of subg. Malachobatus (with a CDS size variation length of 2,241 bp), and caused early termination of translation (Fig. 2b). Also, it displayed point mutations, altering from transcriptions of tyrosine (Tyr) to phenylalanine (Phe). Two other point mutations on the ndhF gene altered phenylalanine (Phe) to isoleucine (Ile) and tyrosine (Tyr) to phenylalanine (Phe); the former mutation was in R. glandulosopunctatus, R. rubroangustifolius, R. taiwanicolus (Fig. 2d) and the latter in R. laciniastipulatus (Fig. 2c). Additionally, a point mutation was detected in R. laciniastipulatus, altering asparagine (Asn) to lysine (Lys) (Fig. 2c). Three Taiwanese Rubus plastomes from subg. Idaeobatus (R. incanus, R. parviaraliifolius, and R. taitoensis) contained the same consistent distribution of amino acids, sequences (Fig. 2e), and the CDS length of 2242 bp as four Rubus plastomes of two subgera Idaeobatus and Anoplobatus sampled from the Korean peninsula and Japan (Fig. 2a)39.

Figure 2
figure 2

The 3′ region of ndhF genes of 12 Rubus species. In each lane, aligned DNA sequence data are shown on the top, box present the amino acid sequences that are coded from the DNA sequences, and asterisk (*) denotes the terminal codons. The mutated residues and amino acids are bolded.

The frequency of codon usage of the eight complete Taiwanese endemic Rubus plastomes was calculated for the cp genome on the basis of the sequences of protein-coding genes and tRNA genes (Fig. 3). The average number of codon usage ranged from 24,134 (R. kawakamii; subg. Malachobatus) up to 26,093 (R. parviaralifolius; subg. Idaeobatus), but the distribution of codon type was consistent. Excluding the AUC codon usage of trnV-GAU in R. laciniatostipulatus (subg. Malachonatus), similar patterns of cp genes and codon usage were detected amongst the eight endemic Rubus species (Supplementary Table 1). The codon usage in eight Taiwanese endemic Rubus plastomes was biased toward high RSCU values of U and A at the third codon usage. A similar phenomenon was observed in other angiosperms40 and algal lineages41.

Figure 3
figure 3

Codon distribution and relative synonymous codon usage (RSCU) in eight endemic Rubus in Taiwan. The RSCU values are represented on the y-axis, while the codon families for each amino acid are denoted on the x-axis.

The RNA editing prediction in eight Taiwanese Rubus endemics indicated 69 sites in total with the same cut-off value, and 19 out of the 35 protein coding-genes (Supplementary Table 2). Those genes included photosynthesis genes (ndA, ndhB, ndhD, ndhF, ndhG, petB, psaI, psbE, and psbF), self-replication genes (rpl23, rpoA, rpoB, rpoC2, rps2, rps14, and rps16) and others (accD, clpP, and matK). No RNA editing sites at ndhF and ndhG genes were found in R. glandulosopunctatus, R. rubroangustifolius, and R. taiwanicolus. In addition, RNA editing sites at the rpoC1 gene was observed in R. kawakamii. Compared with other species, the ndhA gene in R. glandulosopunctatus showed exceptionally higher frequencies (i.e., five times) in RNA editing sites. The ndhB gene had the highest number of potential editing sites (a total of 11 sites), followed by the ndhD gene (a total of eight sites). It showed consistent results from previous reports42,43,44, except for R. glandulosopunctatus that had the second highest number of potential editing sites in ndhA (10). All editing sites showed base transition from cytosine (C) to thymine (T), and the most frequent transition serine (Ser) conversion to leucine (Leu) (Fig. 3). Consequently, the amino acids with hydrophobic chains (isoleucine, leucine, methionine, and phenylalanine) formed in 88.6% of the 29 RNA editing sites.

Comparative analysis of genome structure

The eight complete plastome sequences of endemic Rubus species in Taiwan were plotted using mVISTA analysis using the annotated R. taiwanicolus plastome as a reference (Fig. 4). The results indicated that the LSC region was most divergent, that the two IR regions were highly conserved, and that the non-coding regions were more divergent and variable than the coding regions. In addition, the R. incanus, R. parviaraliifolius and R. taitoensis plastomes showed high sequence similarity (i.e., 97% sequence identity; 149,200 bp identical sites) to the R. taiwanicolus plastome, while R. kawakamii was least similar (97% sequence identity; 149,178 bp identical sites) to R. taiwanicolus.

Figure 4
figure 4

Visualization of alignment of eight Rubus species chloroplast genome sequences. The VISTA-based identity plots using mVISTA in Shuffle-LAGAN (LAGAN toolkit version 2.0; show the sequence identity of eight Taiwan endemic Rubus species. Vertical scale indicates the percent identity from 50 to 100%. Coding and non-coding regions are in blue and pink, respectively. Gray arrows above the alignment indicate the position and direction of each gene.

The sliding window analysis using DnaSP program revealed highly variable regions in the continental Island endemic taxa of the Rubus chloroplast genome (Fig. 5). As the eight plastomes of Rubus from Taiwan were compared, the average value of nucleotide diversity (Pi) over the entire cp genome was 0.010. The most variable region was the rps16/trnQ intergenic region with a 0.05018 Pi value. Also, highly variable regions included three other intergenic regions: petA/psbJ (Pi = 0.04567), rpl32/trnL-UAG (Pi = 0.04165), and trnT-UGU/trnL-UAA (Pi = 0.04147). Therefore, four highly variable regions with a Pi value greater than 0.04 identified in eight endemic Rubus plastomes in Taiwan can be useful for population genetic and phylogeographic study.

Figure 5
figure 5

Sliding window analysis of the eight whole chloroplast genomes of Rubus species in Taiwan. X-axis: position of the window midpoint, Y-axis: nucleotide diversity within each window.

The positive selection analysis using DnaSP program with synonymous and nonsynonymous substitution options revealed positively selected genes (Fig. 6). Overall, the average Ka/Ks ratio of the 73 common protein-coding genes in the eight endemic plastomes was 0.45. For each conserved gene, a total of 44 (out of 73 genes) had an average Ka/Ks ratio below 1 for the eight comparison groups, suggesting that these genes were subjected to strong purifying selection pressures in the Rubus chloroplast. The Ka/Ks ratio of > 1 had a total of 29 genes out of 73, suggesting that these genes were positively selected in the eight endemic plastomes in Taiwan. Those genes included one ATP subunit gene (atpI), three photosystem subunit genes (psbB, psbC, and psbD), two cytochrome b6/f complex gene (petA and petB), eight NADH oxidoreductase genes (ndhA, ndhD, ndhF, ndhG, ndhH, ndhI, ndhJ, and ndhK), Rubisco gene (rbcL), four encoded DNA dependent RNA polymerase genes (rpoA, rpoB, rpoC1, and rpoC2), four ribosomal subunit genes (rpl20, rps2, rps3, and rps4), maturase gene (matK), one subunit Acetyl-CoA carboxylase gene (accD), one c-type cytochrome synthesis gene (ccsA), one envelop membrane protein gene (cemA), and two unknown genes (ycf1 and ycf 2). Surprisingly, our results from the Taiwanese endemic Rubus suggested that ca. 40% of the protein-coding genes underwent positive selection pressures.

Figure 6
figure 6

The Ka/Ks ratio of 73 protein-coding genes of cp genomes from eight endemic whole chloroplast genomes of Rubus species in Taiwan. X-axis: Ka/Ks ratio, Y-axis: 29 protein-coding genes with the Ka/Ks ratio of > 1.

Phylogenetic analysis

Maximum likelihood (ML) analysis conducted on the best-fit model of “TVM + F + R4” revealed the first preliminary phylogenetic relationships among endemic species in Taiwan (Fig. 7). Phylogenetic analysis of 31 representative plastomes within the family Rosaceae supported both the monophyly of Rubus (100% bootstrap support) and the sister relationship between Rubus and the clade containing Fragaria and Rosa (100% bootstrap support). Based on limited available complete plastome sequences of Rubus from four subgenera, Anoplobatus and Malachobatus appear to be monophyletic, while Idaeobatus is not monophyletic (Fig. 7). Subgenus Cylactis (R. fockeanus) is sister to Malachobatus (R. laciniatostiplatus, R. lambertianus var. glaber, R. kawakamii; 100% bootstrap support), and six species of Idaeobatus (R. amabilis, R. coreanus, R. niveus, R. taitoensis, R. parviaralifolius, and R. incanus) are located basal lineage within genus Rubus clade. The continental progenitor-insular derivative species pair in Japan, R. boninensis and R. trifidus, are sister to the other progenitor-derivative species pair R. crataegifolius and R. takesimensis in Korea. Subgenus Anoplobatus appears to be deeply embedded within Idaeobatus (Fig. 7). Results from the phylogenetic relationships and positions of the eight Taiwanese endemics indicated that R. glandulosopunctatus, R. rubroangustifolius, and R. taiwanicolus formed a monophyletic group and were sister to R. corchorifolius (100% bootstrap support). The other clade of Taiwanese endemics including R. taitoensis, R. parviaraliifolius, and R. incanus, is sister to R. coreanus, while R. laciniatostipulatus and R. kawakamii in subg. Malachobatus is sister to R. fockeanus in subg. Cylactis. These suggest that endemic species of Rubus in Taiwan most likely have evolved at least three times from different lineages (Fig. 7), requiring further confirmation based on rigorous sampling from both continental and island species.

Figure 7
figure 7

The maximum-likelihood (ML) tree using IQ-TREE v. 1. 4. 2. ( inferred from 31 representative species of Rosaceae. The complete plastomes of eight Rubus endemic species from Taiwan are labeled in red. The bootstrap value based on 1,000 replicates is shown on each node. Prinsepia utillis was used as an outgroup and columns on the right indicate two subfamilies of Rosaceae, Rosoideae and Amygdaloideae, and subgeneric classification of Rubus (Anoplobatus, Idaeobatus, Cylactis, and Malachobatus).


Chloroplast genome structure and evolution in Taiwanese Rubus endemics

For the first time, we characterized the eight complete plastomes of Taiwan endemic Rubus species, including two species from subg. Malachobatus. The size of the complete plastome sequences are highly conserved with the total length ranging from 155,566 to 156,236 bp (Table 1). In addition, despite their representations from two subgenera (Idaeobatus and Malachobatus), the plastomes are highly conserved, with no structural variations or content rearrangements. Interestingly, the highly conserved group II intron of atpF gene was lost in all eight plastomes regardless of their subgeneric assignments, as we demonstrated previously in the case of R. boninensis, R. crataegifolius, R. takesimensis and R. trifidus35,39. Within the major lineages of the family Rosaceae45, we found the complete atpF gene in members of the newly circumscribed subfamily Amygdaloideae, such as Prunus (KP732472), Pyrus (HG737342, AP012207), and Malus (NC040170, NC031163). However, loss of the atpF intron was also detected in other members of Rosoideae, such as Fragaria (KY769126, 769125, 434061), Hagenia (KX0088604), Potentilla (HG931056), and Rosa (KY419918, KX768420, KY419934). It still remains to be determined whether the loss of the atpF intron, that frequently occurs in Rosa and all subgenera of Rubus, has occurred in other major lineages within the family Rosaceae.

In this study, we detected mutations in the 3′ region of the ndhF gene; which is known to have frameshift mutations and alterations on transcription termination, as a result of higher substitution rate, a wide range of insertion and deletion (indel) variations, a low homoplasy rate, and a high AT content46,47. In comparative phylogenomic analysis of genus Rosa sect. Synstylae, Jeon and Kim30 revealed frameshift and point mutations on the 3′ end of the ndhF gene. However, our previous study on the comparative analysis of four Rubus plastomes (two from each subgenus Anoplabatus and Idaeobatus) only showed nucleotide substitutions and transcription alterations without size variations39. A frameshift mutation via ATT deletion that caused early termination and translation was identified in R. kawakamii (subg. Malachobatus) from the eight Taiwan endemic Rubus plastomes (Fig. 2). Although the other endemic R. laciniatostipulatus belongs to the same subg. Malachobatus, it only showed a point mutation, which altered transcriptions from asparagine (Asn) to lysine (Lys) and tyrosine (Tyr) to phenylalanine (Phe). We also detected point mutations in other endemic Rubus in Taiwan for the same 2,242 bp sequences, which altered transcripts from tyrosine (Tyr) to phenylalanine (Phe), phenylalanine (Phe) to isoleucine (Ile), tyrosine (Tyr) to phenylalanine (Phe), and asparagine (Asp) to lysine (Lys). Furthermore, three Taiwanese endemic Rubus plastomes in subg. Idaeobatus (R. incanus, R. parviaraliifolius, and R. taitoensis) showed the same distribution of amino acids and sequence lengths (2,242 bp) with the four previously analyzed members of Rubus plastomes (two in subg. Idaeobatus and two in Anoplobatus)39. It appears that these changes are neither subgenus specific nor geographically confined to the East Sea (Ulleung Island), the northwestern Pacific Ocean (Bonin Islands), and the western rim of Pacific Ocean (Taiwan).

The codon usage bias, which could be manifested primarily by the balance between mutational bias and natural selective forces, provide crucial information to our understanding of molecular evolution and environmental adaptation41,48,49. In the case of R. trifidus (continental progenitor)—R. boninensis (insular derivative) species pairs in subg. Anoplobatus, we found similar patterns in codon usage with some exceptions39. When compared with the pair of R. trifidus-R. boninensis, AUG (trnfM-CAU, trnI-CAU, and trnM-CAU), UCA (trnS-UGA), UAG (no usage), and CAA codon usage (trnQ-UUG) showed different patterns in R. crataegifolius-R. takesimensis species pairs. When compared with these two species pairs, AUG (trnfM-CAU, trnI-CAU, and trnM-CAU), CAA (trnQ-UUG), and UCA (trnS-UGA) codon usage of the eight Taiwanese Rubus endemics showed similar patterns to R. cratageifolius, R. takesimensis, and R. trifidus from Korea. The specific codon usage amongst eight endemic Rubus was detected in R. laciniatostipulatus (subg. Malachobatus) with AUG codon usage (trnV-GAU). The UAG codon usage (stop codon) was similar only to R. crataegifolius and R. takesimensis on Ulleung Island, and R. boninensis on Bonin Islands. Rubus trifidus showed a different UAG codon usage of trnI-CAT. However, the Bonin Islands endemic R. boninensis showed different patterns of codon usage at AUG (trnfM-CAU and trnI-CAU), CAA (trnK-UUG) and UCA (no usage). Given that R. boninensis occurs on Minamiiwojima Island, which is estimated to be as young as 30,000 years old, it was interesting to notice that the endemic Rubus species on geologically younger islands showed more diverse patterns of codon usage than other insular endemics on Ulleung Island (R. takesimensis) and Taiwan (eight species in this study). The biased patterns toward high RSCU values of U and A, at the third codon usage in eight endemic Rubus plastomes in Taiwan, was similar to other angiosperms and algal lineages40,41.

Owing to their important function in plant metabolism, proteins and RNA molecules encoding plastid genes are subject to selective pressures50. While purifying selection acts to maintain protein functions, positive selection may come into play in response to environmental changes, novel ecological adaptation, or results from coevolutionary processes50,51. Previous studies showed that Ka/Ks values are usually less than one because synonymous nucleotide substitutions occur more frequently than nonsynonymous substitutions52. Interestingly, our current results from the eight endemic Rubus species from Taiwan suggested that ca. 40% protein-coding genes experienced positive selection pressures. All but two genes (ndhB and ndhC) of the NADH oxidoreductase genes of the eight Taiwan Rubus endemics showed that they were under positive selection pressure. Under strong light conditions, NADH dehydrogenase can protect plants from photoinhibition or photooxidation stress by stabilizing the NADH complex, and adjusting the photosynthetic rate and growth delay caused by drought53,54. In addition, all Rubus plastid gene encoding proteins related to transcription and post-transcriptional modification (matK, rpoA, rpoB, rpoC1, and rpoC2) underwent positive selection. In the same Rosaceae family, Fragaria vesca ssp. vesca showed six positively selected genes: rpoC2, ndhD, ndhF, psbB, ycf1, and ycf455. We can only speculate that the positive selection pressure among eight endemic species of Rubus in Taiwan experienced by many genes was likely a result of their adaptation to subtropical climates in the island of Taiwan. This speculation, however, has to be investigated further.

A highly variable region or hotspot region in the whole chloroplast genome scale can help elucidate the phylogenetic relationships and complex evolutionary history of Rubus as a maternally inherited marker. Recently, several hot spot regions including genic and non-coding regions across the entire plastome were reported in several members of Rosaceae, such as Malus56, Prunus57, Pyrus27, and Rosa30. In our current study, we also detected four highly variable regions, including rps16/trnQ (Pi = 0.0518) and petA/psbJ (Pi = 0.0466), as two of the most variable hotspots within the eight Taiwan Rubus endemics, with an average nucleotide diversity (Pi) value of 0.01. When compared with our early study (average Pi value of 0.01), which included subg. Idaeobatus (four taxa) and subg. Cylactis (one taxon), the two most variable noncoding regions, trnL/trnF and rps16/trnQ, were detected with a Pi value of 0.05 and 0.046, respectively35. Yang et al.39 compared the four taxa of progenitor-derivative species pairs in subg. Idaeobatus (R. crataegifolius-R. takesimensis on Ulleung Island) and subg. Anoplobatus (R. trifidus-R. boninensis on the Bonin Islands), and found that the average Pi value (0.005) was substantially lower than that found between subg. Idaeobatus and subg. Cylactis (Pi = 0.01). The same study also suggested that the trnT/trnL region was the most variable region with a Pi value of 0.027. Thus, considering all previous studies on Rubus for the identification of hotspot regions throughout the complete plastomes, two intergenic regions rsp16/trnQ and trnT/trnL were found to be the most variable hotspot regions within genus Rubus, including members of four subgenera (Anoplobatus, Cylactis, Idaeobatus and Malachobatus. Therefore, four hotspot regions from this study, i.e., rps16/trnQ, petA/psbJ, rpl32/trnL-UAG, and trnT-UGU/trnL-UAA, can be used as effective chloroplast DNA markers for population genetic and phylogeographic studies of Rubus species in Taiwan.

Phylogenetic position and relationships of Taiwanese endemic Rubus

Given the scarcity of available complete plastome sequences of genus Rubus, we were not able to meticulously assess the phylogenetic relationships among the eight endemic Rubus species from Taiwan and their congeneric species in Taiwan and mainland China. Nevertheless, this study provides some insights into preliminary assessments of the relationships among Rubus endemics in Taiwan. First of all, the clade of Rubus endemics in Taiwan included three species, R. taitoensis, R. parviaraliifolius, and R. incanus, which belong to subg. Idaeobatus (Fig. 7)14. Rubus incanus, which commonly occurs in open places and forest edges at medium elevation (1,800–3,000 m) throughout the central mountains in Taiwan, was treated as a synonym of R. niveus, which occurs widely in South Asia and Southeast Asia3. It was considered that R. incanus (narrow cymose panicles or short thyrses) and R. niveus (umbellate corymbs) are two distinct taxa on the basis of the inflorescence type, and our preliminary data based on the complete plastome sequences support the statement of Huang and Hu17 (Fig. 7). In addition, R. incanus has red drupelets at maturity, while R. niveus has red immature and black drupelets at maturity, further supporting that they are distinct taxonomic entities. R. parviaraliifolius occurs in low to medium altitudes (300–1,800 m) throughout the island and has 5-foliolate leaves with red fruits at maturity, and its sister species in this phylogeny, R. taitoensis, has simple leaves (not divided or 3-lobed) with orange to yellow fruits, occurring in medium altitudes (1,500–2,800 m) in the central mountains. It is necessary to include three species of this clade into a broader phylogenetic framework of Rubus in Taiwan and mainland China to precisely determine species relationships among these taxa.

The second clade includes three species in subg. Idaeobatus, R. glandulosopunctatus, R. rubroangustifolius, and R. taiwanicolus, which is more closely related to the clade of subg. Anoplobatus (R. trifidus and R. boninensis) and subg. Idaeobatus (R. crataegifolius and R. takesimensis) than other members of the same subgenus (R. amabilis, R. coreanus, R. niveus, R. taitoensis, R. parviaraliifolius, and R. incanus) (Fig. 7). In general, the clade of subg. Idaeobatus is not well resolved, especially subg. Anoplobatus deeply embedded within subg. Idaeobatus clade containing R. leucanthus, R. corchorifolius, R. glandulosopunctatus, R. rubroangustifolius, and R. taiwanicolus, R. crataegifolius and R. takesimensis (Fig. 7)14. Rubus taiwanicolus is a small subshrub up to 15 cm tall with 9–15 foliolate leaves, occurring in the central mountains from medium to high altitudes (1,500–3,000 m), and no previous hypothesis regarding its relationship to other congeneric species exists. In the case of R. glandulosopunctatus, it is considered a synonym of R. rosifolius, which occurs widely in Asia (East Asia, South Asia, and Southeast Asia), Africa, and Australia. As pointed out by Huang and Hu17, this widespread species exhibits tremendous morphological variations, requiring more investigation on this complex taxon. Given that the chloroplast and nuclear combined phylogenies (Figs. 1 and 2)14, R. rosifolius (= R. rosaefolius; spelling variant) is closely related to the clade containing R. hirsutus, R. eustephanaus var. glandulinger, and R. tsangii var. linearifoliolus. However, the target capture sequencing phylogeny suggested that R. rosifolius is closely related to R. illecebrosus, R. trifidus, and R. craetaegifolius15. In our current complete plastome-based phylogeny (Fig. 7), the clade containing R. glandulosopunctatus is closely related to the clade containing R. trifidus and R. craetaegifolius, which is consistent with the target capture sequencing phylogeny15. Extensive sampling regarding the phylogenetic relationships of this complex taxon still have to be further determined. R. rubroangustifolius, which is endemic to eastern and northern Taiwan, was treated as a synonym of R. croceacanthus var. glaber17. Rubus croceacanthus has never been included in previous phylogenetic studies, and it has been known for its tremendous morphological variations in Taiwan. In Huang and Hu17, R. rubroangustifolius was treated as a synonym of R. cardotii, and R. croceacanthus var. glabra was treated as a synonym of R. cardotii. It was also pointed out that R. cardotii can be easily distinguished from R. croceacanthus on the basis of several morphological characteristics. However, little is known about the phylogenetic position of R. rubroangustifolius and its relationship to R. croceacanthus and R. cardotii.

Lastly, the third clade of two endemic species of subg. Malachobatus, R. laciniatostipulatus, and R. kawakamii form a clade with R. lambertianus var. glaber, another species of the same subgenus. R. fockeanus from subg. Cylactis is sister to the clade of subg. Malachobatus. Based on three concatenated regions of chloroplast DNA among Chinese Rubus species, it was shown that subg. Cylactis is closely related to subg. Malachobatus, including few exceptional species from subg. Idaeobatus (e.g., R. pungens complex and R. peltatus) and Dalibardastrum (R. amphidasys and R. tsangorum). Subg. Cylactis has also shown to be highly polyphyletic on the basis of target capture sequencing study15. Rubus foeckeanus typically occurs in high elevation (2,000–4,000 m in glassy slopes and forests) and has 3-foliolate compound leaves. Rubus laciniatostipulatus occurs widely in southern China and southeastern Asia. In Taiwan, it occurs in forest edges in the northern and central parts of the island at low elevations (20–300 m)17. In the case of R. kawakamii, it is commonly distributed in forests at medium altitudes (1,000–2,500 m) throughout the central mountains. This species is very difficult to distinguish from R. swinhoei, which occurs at low altitudes (20–1,200 m) in northern and central parts, and is often treated as a variety of R. swinhoei58. Nevertheless, both R. laciniatostipulatus and R. kawakamii have simple leaves, shallowly 5–7 lobed or not divided, respectively, and display a close relationship14. Overall, phylogenetic relationships among the endemic species, including infraspecific taxa, require broader taxon sampling from China and Taiwan to gain new insights into infrageneric relationships, as well as their plastome evolution. It is also necessary to assemble plastome sequences from members of subg. Rubus and several other subgenera to fully understand plastome evolution and to reveal the complex evolutionary history of Rubus on a global scale.


Plant sampling, DNA isolation, and plastome sequencing/annotation

We first sampled eight out of the 15 endemic Rubus species in Taiwan, representing two subgenera, Idaeobatus (R. glandulosopunctatus, R. incanus, R. rubroangustifolius, R. parviaraliifolius, R. taitoensis, and R. taiwanicolus) and Malachobatus (R. kawakamii and R. laciniastostipulatus) to assemble plastome sequences. Voucher specimens were collected and deposited at SKK (Ha Eun Herbarium, Sungkyunkwan University, Korea). Fresh leaves were collected from Taiwan and dried with silica gel before DNA extraction. Total DNA was isolated by using the DNeasy Plant Mini Kit (Qiagen, Carlsbad, CA, USA) and sequenced with an Illumina HiSeq 4000 (Illumina, Inc., San Diego, CA, USA), yielding 150 bp paired-end read length, at Macrogen Corporation (Seoul, Korea). The resulting paired-end reads were assembled de novo using Velvet v. 1.2.10 with multiple k-mers59. The tRNAs were confirmed via tRNAscan-SE60. Annotation was conducted using Geneious R1061, and the annotated plastome sequences were submitted to GenBank: R. glandulosopunctatus (MT274118), R. incanus (MT274119), R. kawakamii (MT274120), R. laciniastostipulatus (MT274121), R. parviaraliifolius (MT274122), R. rubroangustifolius (MT274123), R. taitoensis (MT274124), and R. taiwanicolus (MT274125). The annotated GenBank format sequence file was used to draw a circular map with the OrganellarGenomeDRAW (OGDRAW) program v1.3.1.62.

Comparative plastome analysis

Using mVISTA63 in Shuffle-LAGAN mode64, the eight complete plastomes from the endemic Rubus were compared: subg. Idaeobatus (R. glandulosopunctatus, R. incanus, R. rubroangustifolius, R. parviaraliifolius, R. taitoensis, and R. taiwanicolus) and subg. Malachobatus (R. kawakamii and R. laciniastostipulatus). The eight endemic Rubus plastome sequences in Taiwan were aligned with MAFFT v. 765 and adjusted manually with Geneious61. Using DnaSP v. 6.10 software66, a sliding window analysis with a step size of 200 bp and a window length of 800 bp was conducted to determine the nucleotide diversity (Pi) of the plastome. The codon usage frequency was calculated using MEGA767 with the relative synonymous codon usage (RSCU) value68, which is a simple measure of non-uniform usage of synonymous codons in a coding sequence. The DNA code used by bacteria, archaea, prokaryotic viruses, and chloroplast proteins was used69. Protein-coding genes were run using the online program predictive RNA editor for plants (PREP) suite70, with 22 genes as reference, based on a cut off value of 0.8 to predict the possible RNA editing sites in eight endemic Rubus from Taiwan. Analyses based on the complete cp genomes and concatenated sequences of 75 common protein-coding genes among the studied species were performed via MAFFT v. 765 using Geneious R1061. Using DnaSP v. 6.10 software66, we calculated the Ka/Ks ratios of the eight endemic Taiwanese Rubus plastomes and compared them with each other.

Phylogenetic analysis

For the phylogenetic analysis, the complete plastome sequences of 31 representative species from the family Rosaceae (11 species from Rubus, including R. amabilis (NC047211), R. boninensis (MH734123), R. corchorifolius (KY419958), R. coreanus (NC042715), R. crataegifolius (NC039704), R. fockeanus (KY420018), R. niveus (KY419961), R. takesimensis (NC 037991), R. lambertianus var. glaber (MH99240), R. leucanthus (MK105853), and R. trifidus (MK465682); six species from Fragaria; two species from Rosa; one species from Prunus; two species from Pyrus; and one species from Prinsepia) were aligned with MAFFT v. 765 in Geneious61. Maximum likelihood (ML) analysis based on the best-fit model of TVM + F + R4 was conducted with IQ-TREE v. 1.4.271. Prinsepia utilis was used as an outgroup, and a non-parametric bootstrap analysis was performed with 1000 replicates.