Macroevolution of flower color patterning: biased transition rates and correlated evolution with flower size


Floral pigmentation patterns can both mediate plant-pollinator interactions and modify the abiotic environment of reproductive structures. To date there have been no inquiries into the rate and directionality of macroevolutionary transitions between patterned and non-patterned petals despite their ecological importance and ubiquity across angiosperms. Petals in the Potentilleae tribe (Rosaceae) display color patterns in the ultraviolet (UV) and human-visible spectrum, or can be uniform in color (i.e., patternless). Using a phylogeny of Potentilleae, I test whether evolutionary transition rates between patterned and non-patterned petals are biased in either direction. I then examine whether UV and human-visible patterns are phylogenetically correlated and test the prediction that color patterns will evolve in concert with larger flowers if they function as guides to orient pollinators to floral rewards. I found that transition rates were biased toward petals that were uniform in color. Transition rates from patterned to uniformly-colored petals were two and six times higher than the reverse for UV and human-visible pattern, respectively. The presence of UV and human-visible pattern evolved independently from one another. However, the evolution of human-visible pattern was associated with the evolution of larger flowers but the evolution of UV pattern was correlated with the evolution of smaller flowers. I posit that the transition bias towards non-patterned flowers may reflect developmental constraints on spatial regulation of pigments required to produce floral color patterning. The correlated evolution of larger flowers and human-visible pigmentation patterns support the hypothesis that nectar or pollen guides are more likely to evolve in larger-flowered species. This work provides insight into how transition rate bias and trait correlations can shape phylogenetic patterns of floral color pattern diversity.

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