Phylogenetic conservatism explains why plants are more likely to produce fleshy fruits in the tropics

Gang Wang, Anthony R. Ives, Hua Zhu, Yunhong Tan, Si Chong Chen, Jie Yang, Bo Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Plant functional traits often show strong latitudinal trends. To explain these trends, studies have often focused on environmental variables, correlations with other traits that themselves show latitudinal trends, and phylogenetic conservatism. However, few studies have systematically disentangled the relative contributions of these factors. Using a dataset consisting of 9,370 plant species from Southwest China, we investigated factors affecting fruit type (fleshy vs. dry): plant growth form, environmental constraints (summarized by climate region), and phylogenetic conservatism. Growth form and climate region are often cited in the literature as important explanations for the higher proportion of fleshy fruited species in the tropics. Nonetheless, in our analyses using partial R2, growth form and climate region explained only 1.7% and 0.3%, respectively, of the variance in fruit type in a model including phylogeny, while phylogenetic conservatism explained 79.5%. Furthermore, phylogenetic conservatism was evenly distributed along the phylogeny, implying that fruit type reflects both ancient and recent phylogenetic relationships. Our findings illustrate the value of parsing out the contributions of explanatory variables and phylogeny to the variance in species' traits. Methods using phylogenies that calculate partial R2 give a more informative tool than traditional methods to explore the phylogenetic patterns of functional traits.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere03555
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2022
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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