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    Halophytes are rare, with only 0·25% of angiosperm species able to complete their life cycle in saline conditions. This could be interpreted as evidence that salt tolerance is difficult to evolve. However, consideration of the phylogenetic distribution of halophytes paints a different picture: salt tolerance has evolved independently in many different lineages, and halophytes are widely distributed across angiosperm families. In this Viewpoint, I will consider what phylogenetic analysis of halophytes can tell us about the macroevolution of salt tolerance. Phylogenetic analyses of salt tolerance have shown contrasting patterns in different families. In some families, such as chenopods, salt tolerance evolved early in the lineage and has been retained in many lineages. But in other families, including grasses, there have been a surprisingly large number of independent origins of salt tolerance, most of which are relatively recent and result in only one or a few salt-tolerant species. This pattern of many recent origins implies either a high transition rate (salt tolerance is gained and lost often) or a high extinction rate (salt-tolerant lineages do not tend to persist over macroevolutionary timescales). While salt tolerance can evolve in a wide range of genetic backgrounds, some lineages are more likely to produce halophytes than others. This may be due to enabling traits that act as stepping stones to developing salt tolerance. The ability to tolerate environmental salt may increase tolerance of other stresses or vice versa. Phylogenetic analyses suggest that enabling traits and cross-tolerances may make some lineages more likely to adapt to increasing salinization, a finding that may prove useful in assessing the probable impact of rapid environmental change on vegetation communities, and in selecting taxa to develop for use in landscape rehabilitation and agriculture. © The Author 2014. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Annals of Botany Company. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email:


    Lindell Bromham. Macroevolutionary patterns of salt tolerance in angiosperms. Annals of botany. 2015 Feb;115(3):333-41

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    PMID: 25452251

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