Floral symmetry affects speciation rates in angiosperms

Risa D. Sargent


Despite much recent activity in the field of pollination biology, the extent to which animal pollinators drive the formation of new angiosperm species remains unresolved. One problem has been identifying floral adaptations that promote reproductive isolation. The evolution of a bilaterally symmetrical corolla restricts the direction of approach and movement of pollinators on and between flowers. Restricting pollinators to approaching a flower from a single direction facilitates specific placement of pollen on the pollinator. When coupled with pollinator constancy, precise pollen placement can increase the probability that pollen grains reach a compatible stigma. This has the potential to generate reproductive isolation between species, because mutations that cause changes in the placement of pollen on the pollinator may decrease gene flow between incipient species. I predict that animal–pollinated lineages that possess bilaterally symmetrical flowers should have higher speciation rates than lineages possessing radially symmetrical flowers. Using sister–group comparisons I demonstrate that bilaterally symmetric lineages tend to be more species rich than their radially symmetrical sister lineages. This study supports an important role for pollinator–mediated speciation and demonstrates that floral morphology plays a key role in angiosperm speciation.

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