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Heterochrony and Developmental Innovation: Evolution of Female Gametophyte Ontogeny in Gnetum, a Highly Apomorphic Seed Plant

William E. Friedman and Jeffrey S. Carmichael
Evolution
Vol. 52, No. 4 (Aug., 1998), pp. 1016-1030
DOI: 10.2307/2411233
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2411233
Page Count: 15
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Heterochrony and Developmental Innovation: Evolution of Female Gametophyte Ontogeny in Gnetum, a Highly Apomorphic Seed Plant
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Abstract

Seed plant female gametophytes are focal points for the evolutionary modification of development. From a structural perspective, the most divergent female gametophytes among all seed plants are found in Gnetum, a clade within Gnetales. Coenocytic organization at sexual maturity, absence of defined egg cells (free nuclei are fertilized), lack of centripetal cellularization, and postfertilization development of embryo-nourishing tissues are features of the female gametophytes of Gnetum unparalleled among seed plants. Although the female gametophyte of Gnetum retains the three basic phases of somatic development common to female gametophytes of plesiomorphic seed plants (free nuclear development, cellularization, cellular growth), the timing of fertilization has been accelerated relative to the rate of somatic development. As a consequence, the female gametophyte of Gnetum matures sexually (is fertilized) at a juvenile (compared with the ancestral somatic ontogeny) and free nuclear stage of somatic development, thereby precluding differentiation of egg cells. Unlike progenetic animals, where truncation of somatic ontogeny evolves in tandem with acceleration in the timing of sexual maturation, the female gametophyte of Gnetum completes the entire ancestral somatic ontogeny after precocious sexual maturation. This results in the evolution of postfertilization development of embryo-nourishing female gametophyte tissues, a phenomenon unique among seed plants. Nonheterochronic developmental innovations have also played important roles in the evolution of the female gametophyte of Gnetum. Centripetal cellularization, which is always associated with the phase change from coenocytic to cellular organization among plesiomorphic seed plant female gametophytes, is lacking in Gnetum. Instead, during early phases of development, apomorphic free nuclear organization is coupled with a highly anomalous pattern of cellularization. Stage-specific innovations during early development in the female gametophyte of Gnetum do not affect plesiomorphic aspects of later phases of development. Thus, a complex array of heterochronic and nonheterochronic developmental innovations have played critical roles in the ontogenetic evolution of the highly apomorphic female gametophyte of Gnetum.

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