Spur length evolution in Linaria reflects changes in cell division

15 Jan 2018

Background and aims Nectar spurs (tubular outgrowths of a floral organ which contain or give the appearance of containing nectar) are hypothesized to be a ‘key innovation’ which can lead to rapid speciation within a lineage, because they are involved in pollinator specificity. Despite the ecological importance of nectar spurs, relatively little is known about their development. We used a comparative approach to investigate variation in nectar spur length in a clade of eight Iberian toadflaxes. Methods Spur growth was measured at the macroscopic level over time in all eight species, and growth rate and growth duration compared. Evolution of growth rate was reconstructed across the phylogeny. Within the clade we then focused on Linaria becerrae and Linaria clementei, a pair of sister species which have extremely long and short spurs, respectively. Characterisation at a micromorphological level was performed across a range of key developmental stages to determine whether the difference in spur length is due to differential cell expansion or cell division. Key results We detected a significant difference in the evolved growth rates, while developmental timing of both the initiation and the end of spur growth remained similar. Cell number is 3 times higher in the long spurred Linaria becerrae compared to Linaria clementei, whereas cell length is only 1.3 times greater. In addition, overall anisotropy of mature cells is not significantly different between the two species. Conclusions We found that changes in cell number and therefore in cell division largely explain evolution of spur length. This contrasts with previous studies in Aquilegia which have found that variation in nectar spur length is due to directed cell expansion (anisotropy) over variable timeframes. Our study adds to knowledge about nectar spur development in a comparative context and indicates that different systems may have evolved nectar spurs using disparate mechanisms.