Investigating the independent evolution of the size of floral organs via G-matrix estimation and artificial selection


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Summary The attractiveness of a plant to pollinators is dependent on both the number of flowers produced and the size of the petals. However, limiting resources often result in a size/number trade-off, whereby the plant can make either more flowers or larger flowers, but not both. If developmental genes underlying sepal and petal identity (some of which overlap) also influence size, then this shared genetic basis could constrain the independent evolution of floral size and attractiveness. Here, we determined whether the size of sepals and petals in the dioecious perennial, Silene latifolia, are developmentally independent by performing two experiments: a genetic variance–covariance experiment to estimate genetic correlations between calyx width, petal-limb length, flower mass, and number and a four-bout artificial-selection experiment to alter calyx width and estimate the correlated response in petal-limb length. In addition, we determined whether variation in petal-limb length is the result of cell expansion or cell proliferation. The first experiment revealed that petal-limb length is not genetically correlated with calyx width, and the second experiment confirmed this; selection on calyx width did not result in a predictable or significant change in petal-limb length. Flower number was negatively correlated with all the floral traits measured, indicating a flower size/number trade-off. Cell number, but not size, explained a significant amount of the variation in petal-limb length. We conclude that the size of the two outer floral organs can evolve independently. This species can therefore increase the number of flowers produced by decreasing investment in the calyx without simultaneously decreasing petal size and the attractiveness of each individual flower to pollinators.