Evolution of leaf form in marsileaceous ferns: evidence for heterochrony.
Using an explicit phylogenetic framework, ontogenetic patterns of leaf form are compared among the three genera of marsileaceous ferns (Marsilea, Regnellidium, and Pilularia) with the outgroup Asplenium to address the hypothesis that heterochrony played a role in their evolution. We performed a Fourier analysis on a developmental sequence of leaves from individuals of these genera. Principal components analysis of the harmonic coefficients was used to characterize the ontogenetic trajectories of leaf form in a smaller dimensional space. Results of this study suggest that the "evolutionary juvenilization" observed in these leaf sequences is best described using a mixed model of heterochrony (accelerated growth rate and early termination at a simplified leaf form). The later stages of the ancestral, more complex, ontogenetic pattern were lost in Marsileaceae, giving rise to the simplified adult leaves of Marsilea, Regnellidium, and Pilularia. Life-history traits such as ephemeral and uncertain habitats, high reproductive rates, and accelerated maturation, which are typical for marsileaceous ferns, suggest that they may be "r strategists." The evidence for heterochrony presented here illustrates that it has resulted in profound ecological and morphological consequences for the entire life history of Marsileaceae.
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