Speciation by polyploidy (see here for a general description of polyploidy) is one of the mechanisms of speciation and evolutionary diversification. We all learn about it in Bio 101, right after allopatry and sympatry. It is thought to be an especially important driver of speciation in plants, and anecdotal evidence, such as the origination of the invasive polyploid, Spartina anglica in the UK in the 1800's, reinforced that view. But how important has been unanswered until now.
In a new publication in PNAS by Wood et al. -from the Loren Rieseberg lab (one of the best lab homepages BTW) this questions has been answered. The authors go through all available chromosome counts on the Missouri Botanical Garden's Index to Plant Chromosome Numbers, and assess the proportion of polyploid species. They find that about 15% of all angiosperm speciation events coincided with an increase in chromosome number (and about 30% of fern species). Further, about 35% of all genera contain polyploids. Looking across the phylogeny of major plant groups, they find that all major lineages, except Gymnosperms, have significant proportions of polyploids (again with ferns have the greatest proportion). Polyploidy is a ubiquitous feature of plant diversity and a major driver of plant speciation. And now we can quantify just how important.
Wood, T., Takebayashi, N., Barker, M., Mayrose, I., Greenspoon, P., & Rieseberg, L. (2009). The frequency of polyploid speciation in vascular plants Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106 (33), 13875-13879 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0811575106
the drones are coming
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