The evolvability of herkogamy: quantifying the evolutionary potential of a composite trait

Øystein H. Opedal, Geir H. Bolstad, Thomas F. Hansen, W. Scott Armbruster, Christophe Pélabon

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Accurate estimates of trait evolvabilities are central to predicting the short-term evolutionary potential of populations, and hence their ability to adapt to changing environments. We quantify and evaluate the evolvability of herkogamy, the spatial separation of male and female structures in flowers, a key floral trait associated with variation in mating systems. We compiled genetic-variance estimates for herkogamy and related floral traits, computed evolvabilities, and compared these among trait groups and among species differing in their mating systems. When measured in percentage of its own size, the median evolvability of herkogamy was an order of magnitude greater than the evolvability of other floral size measurements, and was generally not strongly constrained by genetic covariance between its components (pistil and stamen lengths). Median evolvabilities were similar across mating systems, with only a tendency towards reduction in highly selfing taxa. We conclude that herkogamy has the potential to evolve rapidly in response to changing environments. This suggests that the extensive variation in herkogamy commonly observed among closely related populations and species may result from rapid adaptive tracking of fitness optima determined by variation in pollinator communities or other selective factors.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1572-1586
Number of pages15
Issue number6
Early online date25 Apr 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2017


  • conditional evolvability
  • dead-end hypothesis
  • evolution of selfing
  • floral evolution
  • genetic variance
  • heritability
  • plant mating systems
  • pollination accuracy


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