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Evolution. 2007 Nov;61(11):2623-42. Epub 2007 Oct 1.

Patterns of reproductive isolation in Mediterranean deceptive orchids.

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Dipartimento delle Scienze Biologiche, Università degli Studi di Napoli Federico II, Via Foria, 223, I-80139 Naples, Italy.


The evolution of reproductive isolation is of central interest in evolutionary biology. In plants, this is typically achieved by a combination of pre- and postpollination mechanisms that prevent, or limit, the amount of interspecific gene flow. Here, we investigated and compared two ecologically defined groups of Mediterranean orchids that differ in pollination biology and pollinator specificity: sexually deceptive orchids versus food-deceptive orchids. We used experimental crosses to assess the strength of postmating prezygotic, and postzygotic reproductive isolation, and a phylogenetic framework to determine their relative rates of evolution. We found quantitative and qualitative differences between the two groups. Food-deceptive orchids have weak premating isolation but strong postmating isolation, whereas the converse situation characterizes sexually deceptive orchids. Only postzygotic reproductive isolation among food-deceptive orchids was found to evolve in a clock-like manner. Comparison of evolutionary rates, within a common interval of genetic distance, showed that the contribution of postmating barriers was more relevant in the food-deceptive species than in the sexually deceptive species. Asymmetry in prezygotic isolation was found among food-deceptive species. Our results indicate that postmating barriers are most important for reproductive isolation in food-deceptive orchids, whereas premating barriers are most important in sexually deceptive orchids. The different rate of evolution of reproductive isolation and the relative strength of pre- and postmating barriers may have implication for speciation processes in the two orchid groups.

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