A continuous morphological approach to study the evolution of pollen in a phylogenetic context: An example with the order Myrtales

Kriebel, Ricardo; Khabbazian, Mohammad Hassan; Sytsma, Kenneth J.

The study of pollen morphology has historically allowed evolutionary biologists to assess phylogenetic relationships among Angiosperms, as well as to better understand the fossil record. During this process, pollen has mainly been studied by discretizing some of its main characteristics such as size, shape, and exine ornamentation. One large plant clade in which pollen has been used this way for phylogenetic inference and character mapping is the order Myrtales, composed by the small families Alzateaceae, Crypteroniaceae, and Penaeaceae (collectively the “CAP clade”), as well as the large families Combretaceae, Lythraceae, Melastomataceae, Myrtaceae, Onagraceae and Vochysiaceae. In this study, we present a novel way to study pollen evolution by using quantitative size and shape variables. We use morphometric and morphospace methods to evaluate pollen change in the order Myrtales using a time-calibrated, supermatrix phylogeny. We then test for conservatism, divergence, and morphological convergence of pollen and for correlation between the latitudinal gradient and pollen size and shape. To obtain an estimate of shape, Myrtales pollen images were extracted from the literature, and their outlines analyzed using elliptic Fourier methods. Shape and size variables were then analyzed in a phylogenetic framework under an Ornstein-Uhlenbeck process to test for shifts in size and shape during the evolutionary history of Myrtales. Few shifts in Myrtales pollen morphology were found which indicates morphological conservatism. Heterocolpate, small pollen is ancestral with largest pollen in Onagraceae. Convergent shifts in shape but not size occurred in Myrtaceae and Onagraceae and are correlated to shifts in latitude and biogeography. A quantitative approach was applied for the first time to examine pollen evolution across a large time scale. Using phylogenetic based morphometrics and an OU process, hypotheses of pollen size and shape were tested across Myrtales. Convergent pollen shifts and position in the latitudinal gradient support the selective role of harmomegathy, the mechanism by which pollen grains accommodate their volume in response to water loss.


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March 22, 2018