Key innovations are traits that are associated with the particular evolutionary 'success' of some taxonomic groups. Climbing plants depend on the availability of physical support to reach the canopy and thereby prevent shading by neighbouring plants. The present article shows that the evolution of a climbing habit in flowering plants constitutes a key innovation. A literature survey identified 48 pairs of sister groups from 45 families of flowering plants for which information on phylogenetic relationships, growth habit and species richness was available. In 38 cases, the climbing taxa were more diverse than their non-climbing sister groups. This pattern was highly significant. The same result was found when separate analyses were carried out for herbaceous and woody climbing plants, which differ in their constraints for successfully reaching a support.
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