The role of petal spurs and specialized pollinator interactions has been studied since Darwin. Aquilegia petal spurs exhibit striking size and shape diversity, correlated with specialized pollinators ranging from bees to hawkmoths in a textbook example of adaptive radiation. Despite the evolutionary significance of spur length, remarkably little is known about Aquilegia spur morphogenesis and its evolution. Using experimental measurements, both at tissue and cellular levels, combined with numerical modelling, we have investigated the relative roles of cell divisions and cell shape in determining the morphology of the Aquilegia petal spur. Contrary to decades-old hypotheses implicating a discrete meristematic zone as the driver of spur growth, we find that Aquilegia petal spurs develop via anisotropic cell expansion. Furthermore, changes in cell anisotropy account for 99 per cent of the spur-length variation in the genus, suggesting that the true evolutionary innovation underlying the rapid radiation of Aquilegia was the mechanism of tuning cell shape.
- Received September 8, 2011.
- Accepted October 26, 2011.
- This journal is © 2011 The Royal Society