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Incidence, Correlates, and Origins of Dioecy in the Island Flora of New Caledonia

Mark A. Schlessman, Laura B. Vary, Jérôme Munzinger and Porter P. Lowry II
International Journal of Plant Sciences
Vol. 175, No. 3 (March/April 2014), pp. 271-286
DOI: 10.1086/674452
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/674452
Page Count: 16
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Incidence, Correlates, and Origins of Dioecy in the Island Flora of New Caledonia


Premise of research. Because it is an inherently risky sexual system, dioecy is globally rare. Attempts to explain unusually high incidences of dioecy on certain islands have generated a considerable literature on the relationships among dioecy, its ecological correlates, establishment after transoceanic dispersal, and postdispersal speciation. Nevertheless, few studies of dioecy on islands have included considerations of the origins and maintenance of dioecy on islands along with determinations of its incidence.Methodology. We used the literature, herbarium specimens, and fieldwork to determine the incidence of dioecy in the native angiosperm flora of New Caledonia. We inferred the number and characteristics of colonists needed to account for the extant dioecious flora. We made traditional species-based numerical assessments of associations between dioecy on New Caledonia and woodiness, plain flowers, fleshy fruit, habitat, and endemism, and we constructed a phylogenetic tree for New Caledonia’s native angiosperms to investigate correlated evolution of dioecy and those associated traits.Pivotal results. This study is the first comprehensive survey of sexual systems for the flora of New Caledonia. One-fifth of New Caledonia’s native angiosperms are dioecious. Dioecy is numerically overrepresented among species that are woody, have plain flowers, have fleshy fruit, occur in rainforest, or are endemic. However, we found strong evidence for correlated evolution only for dioecy and woodiness, plain flowers, and fleshy fruit. Dioecious groups with more of the widely accepted morphological correlates of dioecy tend to be more speciose. Approximately 90% of the colonists that gave rise to the extant dioecious flora were themselves dioecious. Approximately 60% of the colonists have two or more dioecious descendants, and those descendants comprise more than 90% of the extant dioecious species.Conclusions. Successful dispersal and establishment of already dioecious colonists and autochthonous speciation of dioecious lineages are primarily responsible for the high incidence of dioecy on New Caledonia. There were relatively few postdispersal transitions to dioecy. The associations of dioecy with woodiness, plain flowers, and fleshy fruit result from correlated evolution that occurred prior to dispersal to New Caledonia, while the associations of dioecy with rainforest habitat and endemism appear to result from autochthonous speciation of dioecious lineages. With ∼4% of the world’s dioecious species occurring only there, New Caledonia should be a rich source of new information on the evolutionary ecology of dioecy. Realization of this potential will require both further study and concerted efforts to preserve the native flora.

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