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Keywords:

  • Angiosperms;
  • biodiversity;
  • dioecy;
  • evolutionary history;
  • extinction;
  • sister-group comparisons;
  • species richness

ABSTRACT

Dioecious clades have been observed to have lower species richness than their non-dioecious sister groups indicating that dioecious species experience higher extinction rates and (or) lower speciation rates. To determine whether current threats to biodiversity may exacerbate this pattern, we examined the threat to exclusively dioecious families of angiosperms among the 13,013 species of threatened plants included in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. When examined phylogenetically, dioecious families had proportionally more species listed than their sister groups. We then examined whether ecological traits correlated with dioecy, namely tropical distribution, woody growth form, and fleshy fruits, are associated with having higher proportions of threatened species. Ignoring breeding system, woody growth form was the only trait that was associated with a greater than expected proportion of threatened species per family. Red-Listed dioecious families were more likely to have a woody growth form than non-dioecious families. Woody growth habit is likely contributing to the higher incidence of dioecious species being at risk of extinction but is not solely responsible for the pattern because higher risk within dioecious groups was also apparent in a comparison of exclusively woody sister-group pairs. Our results indicate that dioecious plants may warrant special attention in conservation practices.