A Step-by-Step Guide for Geometric Morphometrics of Floral Symmetry

Front Plant Sci. 2018 Oct 10;9:1433. doi: 10.3389/fpls.2018.01433. eCollection 2018.


This paper provides a step-by-step guide for the morphological analysis of corolla and the decomposition of corolla shape variation into its symmetric and asymmetric components. The shape and symmetric organisation of corolla are key traits in the developmental and evolutionary biology of flowering plants. The various spatial layout of petals can exhibit bilateral symmetry, rotational symmetry or more complex combination of symmetry types. Here, I describe a general landmark-based geometric morphometric framework for the full statistical shape analysis of corolla and exemplify its use with four fully worked out case studies including tissue treatment, imaging, landmark data collection, file formatting, and statistical analyses: (i) bilateral symmetry (Fedia graciliflora), (ii) two perpendicular axes of bilateral symmetry (Erysimum mediohispanicum), (iii) rotational symmetry (Vinca minor), and (iv) combined bilateral and rotational symmetry (Trillium undulatum). The necessary tools for such analyses are not implemented in standard morphometric software and they are therefore provided here as functions running in the R environment. Principal Component Analysis is used to separate symmetric and asymmetric components of variation, respectively, quantifying variation among and within individuals. For bilaterally symmetric flowers, only one component of left-right asymmetric variation is extracted, while flowers with more complex symmetric layout have components of asymmetric variation associated with each symmetry operator implied (e.g., left-right asymmetry and adaxial-abaxial asymmetry). Fundamental information on the genetic, developmental, and environmental determinants of shape variation can be inferred from this decomposition (e.g., directional asymmetry, fluctuating asymmetry) and further exploited to document patterns of canalization, developmental stability, developmental modularity and morphological integration. Even if symmetry and asymmetry are not the primary interest of a study on corolla shape variation, statistical and anatomical arguments support the use of the framework advocated. This didactic protocol will help both morphometricians and non-morphometricians to further understand the role of symmetry in the development, variation and adaptive evolution of flowers.

Keywords: Principal Component Analysis; Procrustes fit; actinomorphy; asymmetry; disymmetry; flowers; geometric morphometrics; zygomorphy.