Evolutionary constraints and adaptation shape the size and colour of rainforest fruits and flowers at continental scale

Chloé E. L. Delmas, Robert Kooyman, Maurizio Rossetto

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

    11 Citations (Scopus)


    Aim: Large-scale patterns in flower and fruit traits provide crucial insights into selection processes and the evolutionary history of plant lineages. To isolate and identify the role of selective pressures, including different plant–animal interactions and the factors driving trait evolution, we investigated the convergence and divergence between flower and fruit traits in shared environments.

    Location: Australia to Southeast Asia.
    Time period: Eocene (c. 45 Ma) to present.
    Major taxa studied: Woody angiosperm rain forest species (2,248 species, 133 families).

    Methods: Using a continental-scale data set for all woody angiosperm species in the Australian rain forest (1,816 free-standing and 432 climbing species), we compared the colour and size of fleshy fruits and flowers in relationship to life-form (trees/ shrubs and vines), species biogeographical histories and origins (Sunda versus Sahul) and bioregional distributions.

    Results: Fleshy fruits in the Australian rain forest are mostly small, with a diversity of colours (<30 mm; 81%), and the flowers are mostly small (<10 mm; 65%) and whitish (c. 80%). Compared with trees and shrubs, climbing species showed a higher proportion of red fleshy fruits and large coloured flowers. Small whitish flowers were dominant across lineages from different biogeographical origins (Sunda and Sahul) and geographical regions, and both small and large fleshy fruits retained a range of disperser-attractant colours.

    Main conclusions: Continental-scale size and colour characteristics of flowers andfleshy fruits differed despite sharing environments with similar abiotic selective pressures through time. Plant–animal interactions, including pollination and dispersal, are likely to mediate different evolutionary outcomes for plant traits and reflect both adaptation and evolutionary constraints.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)830-841
    Number of pages12
    JournalGlobal Ecology and Biogeography
    Issue number5
    Early online date23 Jan 2020
    Publication statusPublished - May 2020


    • Australian rain forest
    • biogeography
    • evolutionary history
    • flowers
    • fruits
    • plant reproductive traits
    • selection processes
    • Sunda–Sahul


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