Flower colour divergence is associated with post-fire regeneration dimorphism in the fynbos heath Erica coccinea subsp. coccinea (Ericaceae)

Abstract

The South African Cape fynbos heath Erica coccinea subsp. coccinea is polymorphic for post-fire regeneration mode (seeder/resprouter), flower colour (red/yellow), flowering time (summer-autumn/winter-spring), as well as anther size. These polymorphisms tend to occur between, rather than within, populations. Here, we aimed to understand flower colour divergence in this fynbos heath species and its association with post-fire regeneration. We tested for an association between these polymorphisms. We also examined whether yellow-flowered plants lacked anthocyanins and whether the lack of anthocyanins affected the concentration of other flavonoids, both in flowers and shoots. We found a strong association between flower colour, regeneration mode and flowering phenology. We also detected larger anthers and larger pollen in yellow- than in red-flowered plants, consistently for both resprouter and seeder regeneration strategies. Finally, we ascertained that being yellow-flowered is associated with loss in the capacity of synthesizing anthocyanins in both the flower and in the vegetative tissue. Considering that pollinator availability or preferences do probably not constitute a selection pressure, we propose that both enhanced reproductive success of anthocyaninless, yellow-flowered plants and the avoidance of likely negative pleiotropic effects (early senescence) in seeders would be key to understanding the flower colour divergence in E. coccinea subsp. coccinea.

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Acknowledgements

Cape Nature and SANPARKS issued the necessary permits for fieldwork. F.O. strongly thanks the Spanish Ministerio de Educación (travel Grant PR2010-0365) and the UCA Plan Propio de Investigación (University of Cádiz; EST2016022) for providing travelling bursaries to do fieldwork.

Funding

This study was conducted with funds from the Spanish Ministerio de Educación (travel Grant PR2010-0365) and the UCA Plan Propio de Investigación (University of Cádiz; EST2016022).

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F.O. planned and designed the research, conducted fieldwork and analysed data. R.C.S. carried out and wrote the Methods for pollen measurements. A.L., D.H. and R.J.-T. performed flavonoid analyses and contributed to write the “Methods” section. J.G.S.-M. performed the genetic analyses. F.O. wrote the manuscript and J.M., A.P. and J.G.S.-M. contributed to the discussion.

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Correspondence to Fernando Ojeda.

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Ojeda, F., Midgley, J., Pauw, A. et al. Flower colour divergence is associated with post-fire regeneration dimorphism in the fynbos heath Erica coccinea subsp. coccinea (Ericaceae). Evol Ecol 33, 345–367 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10682-019-09985-0

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Keywords

  • Anthocyanins
  • Flavonols
  • Flower colour polymorphism
  • Increased male function
  • Negative pleiotropic effects
  • Resprouter
  • Seeder