The search for Pleiades in trait constellations: functional integration and phenotypic selection in the complex flowers of Morrenia brachystephana (Apocynaceae)
Baranzelli, Matias Cristian
Sérsic, Alicia N.
Cocucci, Andrea A.
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Pollinator-mediated natural selection on single traits, such as corolla tube or spur length, has been well documented. However, flower phenotypes are usually complex, and selection is expected to act on several traits that functionally interact rather than on a single isolated trait. Despite the fact that selection on complex phenotypes is expectedly widespread, multivariate selection modelling on such phenotypes still remains under-explored in plants. Species of the subfamily Asclepiadoideae (Apocynaceae) provide an opportunity to study such complex flower contrivances integrated by fine-scaled organs from disparate developmental origin. We studied the correlation structure among linear floral traits (i) by testing a priori morphological, functional or developmental hypotheses among traits and (ii) by exploring the organization of flower covariation, considering alternative expectations of modular organization or whole flower integration through conditional dependence analysis (CDA) and integration matrices. The phenotypic selection approach was applied to determine whether floral traits involved in the functioning of the pollination mechanism were affected by natural selection. Floral integration was low, suggesting that flowers are organized in more than just one correlation pleiad; our hypothetical functional correlation matrix was significantly correlated with the empirical matrix, and the CDA revealed three putative modules. Analyses of phenotypic selection showed significant linear and correlational gradients, lending support to expectations of functional interactions between floral traits. Significant correlational selection gradients found involved traits of different floral whorls, providing evidence for the existence of functional integration across developmental domains.
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