Background: Major factors influencing the phenotypic diversity of a lineage can be recognized by characterizing the extent and mode of trait evolution between related species. Here, we compared the evolutionary dynamics of traits associated with floral morphology and climatic preferences in a clade composed of the genera Codonanthopsis, Codonanthe and Nematanthus (Gesneriaceae). To test the mode and specific components that lead to phenotypic diversity in this group, we performed a Bayesian phylogenetic analysis of combined nuclear and plastid DNA sequences and modeled the evolution of quantitative traits related to flower shape and size and to climatic preferences. We propose an alternative approach to display graphically the complex dynamics of trait evolution along a phylogenetic tree using a wide range of evolutionary scenarios.
Results: Our results demonstrated heterogeneous trait evolution. Floral shapes displaced into separate regimes selected by the different pollinator types (hummingbirds versus insects), while floral size underwent a clade-specific evolution. Rates of evolution were higher for the clade that is hummingbird pollinated and experienced flower resupination, compared with species pollinated by bees, suggesting a relevant role of plant-pollinator interactions in lowland rainforest. The evolution of temperature preferences is best explained by a model with distinct selective regimes between the Brazilian Atlantic Forest and the other biomes, whereas differentiation along the precipitation axis was characterized by higher rates, compared with temperature, and no regime or clade-specific patterns.
Conclusions: Our study shows different selective regimes and clade-specific patterns in the evolution of morphological and climatic components during the diversification of Neotropical species. Our new graphical visualization tool allows the representation of trait trajectories under parameter-rich models, thus contributing to a better understanding of complex evolutionary dynamics.