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Gynodioecy and the evolution of separate sexes in the flowering plants

PI(s): Christina M Caruso (University of Guelph)
Start Date: 26-Jun-2013
End Date: 19-Aug-2013
Keywords: ecology, comparative methods, mating systems, phylogenetics

Although most plant species produce hermaphroditic flowers, separate sexes (i.e. dioecy, male and female flowers on different plants) have evolved repeatedly in the angiosperms. Biologists since Darwin have asked how and why dioecy evolves, given that hermaphrodites are at an advantage because they can transmit their genes via both pollen and ovules. One hypothesis is that dioecy evolves via gynodioecy, a breeding system in which plants produce either female or hermaphrodite flowers. To test this hypothesis, I will synthesize data on the phylogenetic distribution and ecological correlates of gynodioecy. If dioecy evolves via gynodioecy, then (1) the clades that contain gynodioecious species should also contain dioecious species and (2) the ecological traits that are correlated with dioecy (e.g. tropical distribution, woody growth habit, and abiotic pollination) should also be correlated with gynodioecy. My results will indicate whether gynodioecy is a common or rare intermediate in the evolution of dioecy.