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Review article - Peer-reviewed, 2021

Flower evolution in the presence of heterospecific gene flow and its contribution to lineage divergence

Orsucci, Marion; Sicard, Adrien


The success of species depends on their ability to exploit ecological resources in order to optimize their reproduction. However, species are not usually found within single-species ecosystems but in complex communities. Because of their genetic relatedness, closely related lineages tend to cluster within the same ecosystem, rely on the same resources, and be phenotypically similar. In sympatry, they will therefore compete for the same resources and, in the case of flowering plants, exchange their genes through heterospecific pollen transfer. These interactions, nevertheless, pose significant challenges to species co-existence because they can lead to resource limitation and reproductive interference. In such cases, divergent selective pressures on floral traits will favour genotypes that isolate or desynchronize the reproduction of sympatric lineages. The resulting displacement of reproductive characters will, in turn, lead to pre-mating isolation and promote intraspecific divergence, thus initiating or reinforcing the speciation process. In this review, we discuss the current theoretical and empirical knowledge on the influence of heterospecific pollen transfer on flower evolution, highlighting its potential to uncover the ecological and genomic constraints shaping the speciation process.


Character displacement; divergence; evolution; flower development; flower isolation; gene flow; speciation

Published in

Journal of Experimental Botany
2021, Volume: 72, number: 4, pages: 971-989

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    • UKÄ Subject classification

      Evolutionary Biology

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