Long-term morphological stasis maintained by a plant-pollinator mutualism

TitleLong-term morphological stasis maintained by a plant-pollinator mutualism
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2014
AuthorsDavis CC, Schaefer H, Xi Z, Baum DA, Donoghue MJ, Harmon LJ
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
KeywordsCentridini, comparative methods, diversification rate, flower morphology, phylogeny

Many major branches in the Tree of Life are marked by stereotyped body plans that have been maintained over long periods of time. One possible explanation for this stasis is that there are genetic or developmental constraints that restrict the origin of novel body plans. An alternative is that basic body plans are potentially quite labile, but are actively maintained by natural selection. We present evidence that the conserved floral morphology of a species-rich flowering plant clade, Malpighiaceae, has been actively maintained for tens of millions of years via stabilizing selection imposed by their specialist New World oil-bee pollinators. Nine clades that have lost their primary oil-bee pollinators show major evolutionary shifts in specific floral traits associated with oil-bee pollination, demonstrating that developmental constraint is not the primary cause of morphological stasis in Malpighiaceae. Interestingly, Malpighiaceae show a burst in species diversification coinciding with the origin of this plant-pollinator mutualism. One hypothesis to account for radiation despite morphological stasis is that although selection on pollinator efficiency explains the origin of this unique and conserved floral morphology, tight pollinator specificity subsequently permitted greatly enhanced diversification in this system.

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