Macroevolutionary synthesis of flowering plant sexual systems

Emma E. Goldberg, Sarah P. Otto, Jana C. Vamosi, Itay Mayrose, Niv Sabath, Ray Ming, Tia Lynn Ashman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Sexual system is a key determinant of genetic variation and reproductive success, affecting evolution within populations and within clades. Much research in plants has focused on evolutionary transitions away from the most common state of hermaphroditism and toward the rare state of dioecy (separate sexes). Rather than transitions predominantly toward greater sexual differentiation, however, evolution may proceed in the direction of lesser sexual differentiation. We analyzed the macroevolutionary dynamics of sexual system in angiosperm genera that contain both dioecious and nondioecious species. Our phylogenetic analyses encompass a total of 2145 species from 40 genera. Overall, we found little evidence that rates of sexual system transitions are greater in any direction. Counting the number of inferred state changes revealed a mild prevalence of transitions away from hermaphroditism and away from dioecy, toward states of intermediate sexual differentiation. We identify genera in which future studies of sexual system evolution might be especially productive, and we discuss how integrating genetic or population-level studies of sexual system could improve the power of phylogenetic comparative analyses. Our work adds to the evidence that different selective pressures and constraints act in different groups, helping maintain the variety of sexual systems observed among plants.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)898-912
Number of pages15
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2017


  • Dioecy
  • hermaphroditism
  • phylogenetic comparative analysis
  • plant sexual system

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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