Style polymorphism in Linum (Linaceae): a case of Mediterranean parallel evolution?

J. Ruiz-Martín, R. Santos-Gally, M. Escudero, J. J. Midgley, R. Pérez-Barrales, J. Arroyo

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Heterostyly is a sex polymorphism that has challenged evolutionary biologists ever since Darwin. One of the lineages where heterostyly and related stylar conditions appear more frequently is Linum (Linaceae). This group is particularly suitable for testing competing hypotheses about ancestral and transitional stages on the evolutionary building up of heterostyly.

We generated a phylogeny of Linum based on extensive sampling and plastid and nuclear DNA sequences, and used it to trace the evolution of character states of style polymorphism. We also revised available data on pollination, breeding systems, and polyploidy to analyse their associations.

Our results supported former phylogenetic hypotheses: the paraphyly of Linum and the non-monophyly of current taxonomic sections. Heterostyly was common in the genus, but appeared concentrated in the Mediterranean Basin and the South African Cape. Ancestral character state reconstruction failed to determine a unique state as the most probable condition for style polymorphism in the genus. In contrast, approach herkogamy was resolved as ancestral state in some clades, giving support to recent hypotheses. Some traits putatively related to heterostyly, such as life history and polyploidy, did show marginal or non-significant phylogenetic correlation, respectively. Although pollinator data are limited, we suggest that beeflies are associated with specific cases of heterostyly.

The consistent association between style polymorphism and heteromorphic incompatibility points to ecological factors as drivers of the multiple evolution of style polymorphism in Linum. Albeit based on limited evidence, we hypothesised that specialised pollinators and lack of mating opportunities drive evolution of style polymorphism and loss of the polymorphism, respectively.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)100-111
JournalPlant Biology
Issue numberS1
Early online date1 Jan 2018
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2018


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  • Evolución de la Heterostilia en Linum

    Author: Ruiz Martin, J., Dec 2017

    Supervisor: Perez-Barrales, R. (Supervisor) & Arroyo, J. (External person) (Supervisor)

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

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