Covariance and decoupling of floral and vegetative traits in nine Neotropical plants: a re-evaluation of Berg's correlation-pleiades concept

Scott Armbruster, V. Di Stilio, J. Tuxill, T. Flores, J. Velasquez Runk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Nearly forty years ago R. L. Berg proposed that plants with specialized pollination ecology evolve genetic and developmental systems that decouple floral morphology from phenotypic variation in vegetative traits. These species evolve separate floral and vegetative trait clusters, or as she termed them, "correlation pleiades." The predictions of this hypothesis have been generally supported, but only a small sample of temperate-zone herb and grass species has been tested. To further evaluate this hypothesis, especially its applicability to plants of other growth forms, we examined the patterns of phenotypic variation and covariation of floral and vegetative traits in nine species of Neotropical plants. We recognized seven specific predictions of Berg's hypothesis. Our results supported some predictions but not others. Species with specialized pollination systems usually had floral traits decoupled (weak correlation; Canna and Eichornia) or buffered (relationship with shallow proportional slope; Calathea and Canna) from variation in vegetative traits. However, the same trend was also observed in three species with unspecialized pollination systems (Echinodorus, Muntingia, and Wedelia). One species with unspecialized pollination (Croton) and one wind-pollinated species (Cyperus) showed no decoupling or buffering, as predicted. While species with specialized pollination usually showed lower coefficients of variation for floral traits than vegetative traits (as predicted), the same was also true of species with unspecialized or wind pollination (unlike our prediction). Species with specialized pollination showed less variation in floral traits than did species with unspecialized or wind pollination, as predicted. However, the same was true of the corresponding vegetative traits, which was unexpected. Also in contrast to our prediction, plants with specialized pollination systems did not exhibit tighter phenotypic integration of floral characters than did species with generalized pollination systems. We conclude that the patterns of morphological integration among floral traits and between floral and vegetative traits tend to be species specific, not easily predicted from pollination ecology, and generally more complicated than R. L. Berg envisaged.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)39-55
Number of pages17
JournalAmerican Journal of Botany
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1999


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