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Keywords:

  • correction for phylogeny;
  • dioecy;
  • Discrete;
  • ecological correlates;
  • life-history correlates;
  • maximum-likelihood;
  • plant sexual systems

Abstract

We report on a phylogenetic analysis of correlations between the occurrence of dioecy and several ecological and life-history attributes: tropical distribution, woody growth form, abiotic pollination, small inconspicuous flowers and inflorescences, many-flowered inflorescences and fleshy fruits. Various hypotheses have been proposed to explain why associations occur between dioecy and several of these attributes, yet most assume that dioecy originates more often in clades with these traits than in clades with alternative character states. To investigate correlations between dioecy and these attributes, and to provide insights into the potential evolutionary pathways that have led to these associations, we assigned states of these traits to genera on a large-scale molecular phylogeny of the angiosperms; we then used maximum-likelihood analysis to analyse the presence of correlations and the sequence of acquisition of traits. Phylogenetic analysis revealed correlations between dioecy and six of the seven attributes; only many-flowered inflorescences exhibiting no association with the dioecious condition. The particular correlations that were revealed and the strength of the association differed among the three main monophyletic groups of angiosperms (Rosids, Asterids, and Eumagnoliids). Our analysis provided no general support for the hypothesis that dioecy is more likely to evolve in lineages already possessing the seven attributes we considered. Further analysis of the intercorrelations of the seven attributes provided evidence for non-independence between some of the traits, implying that functional associations among these traits have influenced the ecology and evolution of dioecious species.