Evolution of phenotypic disparity in the plant kingdom

James W Clark*, Alexander J. Hetherington*, Jennifer L. Morris, Silvia Pressel, Jeffrey G. Duckett, Mark N Puttick, Harald Schneider, Paul Kenrick, Charles H. Wellman, Philip C J Donoghue*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


The plant kingdom exhibits diverse bodyplans, from single-celled algae to complex multicellular land plants, but it is unclear how this phenotypic disparity was achieved. Here we show that the living divisions comprise discrete clusters within morphospace, separated largely by reproductive innovations, the extinction of evolutionary intermediates and lineage-specific evolution. Phenotypic complexity correlates not with disparity but with ploidy history, reflecting the role of genome duplication in plant macroevolution. Overall, the plant kingdom exhibits a pattern of episodically increasing disparity throughout its evolutionary history, that mirrors the evolutionary floras and reflects ecological expansion facilitated by reproductive innovations. This pattern also parallels that seen in the animal and fungal kingdoms, suggesting a general pattern for the evolution of multicellular bodyplans.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1618-1626
Number of pages9
JournalNature Plants
Issue number10
Early online date4 Sept 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 4 Sept 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank D. Edwards for discussion. This research was funded by Standard Grant no. NE/N002067/1 from the Natural Environment Research Council (to P.C.J.D., H.S., S.P., C.H.W. and P.K.), Leverhulme Trust Research Fellowship grant nos RF-2022-167 and RPG-2020-199 (to P.C.J.D.), John Templeton Foundation grant nos JTF 62574 and JTF 62220 (to P.C.J.D.; the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the John Templeton Foundation), Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation grant no. GBMF9741 (to P.C.J.D.), the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council grant no. BB/T012773/1 (to P.C.J.D.) and UK Research and Innovation Future Leaders Fellowship grant no. MR/T018585/1 (to A.J.H.).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023, The Author(s).


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