Understanding plant reproductive diversity

Spencer C H Barrett
Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological Sciences 2010 January 12, 365 (1537): 99-109
Flowering plants display spectacular floral diversity and a bewildering array of reproductive adaptations that promote mating, particularly outbreeding. A striking feature of this diversity is that related species often differ in pollination and mating systems, and intraspecific variation in sexual traits is not unusual, especially among herbaceous plants. This variation provides opportunities for evolutionary biologists to link micro-evolutionary processes to the macro-evolutionary patterns that are evident within lineages. Here, I provide some personal reflections on recent progress in our understanding of the ecology and evolution of plant reproductive diversity. I begin with a brief historical sketch of the major developments in this field and then focus on three of the most significant evolutionary transitions in the reproductive biology of flowering plants: the pathway from outcrossing to predominant self-fertilization, the origin of separate sexes (females and males) from hermaphroditism and the shift from animal pollination to wind pollination. For each evolutionary transition, I consider what we have discovered and some of the problems that still remain unsolved. I conclude by discussing how new approaches might influence future research in plant reproductive biology.

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