Darwin’s second ‘abominable mystery’ targets the question why flowering plants (angiosperms) are so species-rich and ecologically successful, in particular compared to other plant clades (e.g. pteridophytes and gymnosperms). The repeated evolution of (novel) functional traits and the intrinsic ‘adaptability’ of angiosperms may be possible explanations.
We quantify trait evolution and trait flexibility (evolvability) in angiosperms by compiling trait data across lineages – specifically focusing on palms (Arecaceae), custard apples (Annonaceae), and mimosoid legumes (Mimosoideae, Fabaceae). We use herbaria, monographs, floras, and sampling in the field, and combine these with phylogenetic reconstructions, molecular dating, environmental, and distribution data. Traits include, for example, leaf, fruit, flower, and defense traits, as well as molecular traits such as polyploidy and genome size. We assess whether these traits show evolutionary convergence in particular systems – such as savannas, tropical rainforests, or Mediterranean-type ecosystems – and whether they have influenced evolutionary radiations. We apply a range of phylogenetic comparative and structural equation model methods to reconstruct angiosperm trait evolution in time and space.
- Onstein, R.E. (2020) Darwin’s second ‘abominable mystery’: trait flexibility as the innovation leading to angiosperm diversity. New Phytologist 228: 1741-174. doi: 10.1111/nph.16294
- Nürk, N., Linder, H.P., Onstein, R.E., Larcombe, M., Hughes, C.; Piñeiro Fernández, L., Schlüter, P., Valente, L., Beierkuhnlein, C., Cutts, V., Donoghue, M., Edwards, E., Field, R., Flantua, S., Higgins, S., Jentsch, A., Liede-Schumann, S., Pirie, M. (2020) Diversification in evolutionary arenas – assessment and synthesis. Ecology & Evolution 10: 6163– 6182.
- Onstein, R.E., Linder, H.P. (2016) Beyond climate: convergence in fast evolving sclerophylls in Cape and Australian Rhamnaceae predates the mediterranean climate. Journal of Ecology 104:665-677.
- Bouchenak-Khelladi, Y.*, Onstein, R.E.*, Xing, Y, Schwery, O, Linder, HP (2015) On the complexity of triggering evolutionary radiations. New Phytologist 207: 313-326. *authors contributed equally
- Onstein, R.E., Carter, R.J., Xing, Y., Richardson, J., Linder, H.P. (2015) Do Mediterranean-type ecosystems have a common history? – Insights from the Buckthorn family (Rhamnaceae). Evolution 69:756-771.