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Open Access Research article

Evolutionary consequences of shifts to bird-pollination in the Australian pea-flowered legumes (Mirbelieae and Bossiaeeae)

Alicia Toon12*, Lyn G Cook1 and Michael D Crisp2

Author Affiliations

1 The University of Queensland, School of Biological Sciences, Brisbane Qld 4072, Australia

2 Research School of Biology, The Australian National University, Canberra ACT 0200, Australia

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2014, 14:43  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-14-43

Published: 7 March 2014

Abstract

Background

Interactions with pollinators are proposed to be one of the major drivers of diversity in angiosperms. Specialised interactions with pollinators can lead to specialised floral traits, which collectively are known as a pollination syndrome. While it is thought that specialisation to a pollinator can lead to either an increase in diversity or in some cases a dead end, it is not well understood how transitions among specialised pollinators contribute to changes in diversity. Here, we use evolutionary trait reconstruction of bee-pollination and bird-pollination syndromes in Australian egg-and-bacon peas (Mirbelieae and Bossiaeeae) to test whether transitions between pollination syndromes is correlated with changes in species diversity. We also test for directionality in transitions that might be caused by selection by pollinators or by an evolutionary ratchet in which reversals to the original pollination syndrome are not possible.

Results

Trait reconstructions of Australian egg-and-bacon peas suggest that bee-pollination syndrome is the ancestral form and that there has been replicated evolution of bird-pollination syndromes. Reconstructions indicate potential reversals from bird- to bee-pollination syndromes but this is not consistent with morphology. Species diversity of bird-pollination syndrome clades is lower than that of their bee-pollination syndrome sisters.

We estimated the earliest transitions from bee- to bird-pollination syndrome occurred between 30.8 Ma and 10.4 Ma. Geographical structuring of pollination syndromes was found; there were fewer bird-pollination species in the Australian southeast temperate region compared to other regions of Australia.

Conclusions

A consistent decrease in diversification rate coincident with switches to bird pollination might be explained if greater dispersal by bird pollinators results in higher levels of connectivity among populations and reduced chances of allopatric speciation.

The earliest transitions overlap with the early diversification of Australian honeyeaters – the major lineage of pollinating birds in Australia. Our findings are consistent with the idea that environment and availability of pollinators are important in the evolution of pollination syndromes. Changes in flower traits as a result of transitions to bird-pollination syndrome might also limit reversals to a bee-pollination syndrome.

Keywords:
Pollination syndrome; Adaptive radiation; Ancestral state reconstruction; Diversification