Floral uniformity through evolutionary time in a species-rich tree lineage

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Abstract

Changes in floral morphology are expected across evolutionary time and are often promoted as important drivers in angiosperm diversification. Such a statement, however, is in contrast to empirical observations of species-rich lineages that show apparent conservative floral morphologies even under strong selective pressure to change from their environments. Here, we provide quantitative evidence for prolific speciation despite uniform floral morphology in a tropical species-rich tree lineage. We analyse floral disparity in the environmental and phylogenetic context of Myrcia (Myrtaceae), one of the most diverse and abundant tree genera in Neotropical biomes. Variation in floral morphology among Myrcia clades is exceptionally low, even among distantly related species. Discrete floral specialisations do occur, but these are few, present low phylogenetic signal, have no strong correlation with abiotic factors, and do not affect overall macroevolutionary dynamics in the lineage. Results show that floral form and function may be conserved over large evolutionary time scales even in environments full of opportunities for ecological interactions and niche specialisation. Species accumulation in diverse lineages with uniform flowers apparently does not result from shifts in pollination strategies, but from speciation mechanisms that involve other, nonfloral plant traits.

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Vasconcelos, T. N. C., Chartier, M., Prenner, G., Martins, A. C., Schönenberger, J., Wingler, A., & Lucas, E. (2019). Floral uniformity through evolutionary time in a species-rich tree lineage. New Phytologist, 221(3), 1597–1608. https://doi.org/10.1111/nph.15453

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