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Apr 16, 2015
Proceedings. Biological Sciences
Polymorphic traits are central to many fundamental discoveries in evolution, yet why they are found in some species and not others remains poorly understood. We use the African genus Protea-within which more than 40% of species have co-occurring pink and white floral colour morphs-to ask whether convergent evolution and ecological similarity could explain the genus-wide pattern of polymorphism. First, we identified environmental correlates of pink morph frequency across 28 populations of four species. Second, we determined whether the same correlates could predict species-level polymorphism and monomorphism across 31 species. We found that pink morph frequency increased with elevation in Protea repens and three section Exsertae species, increased eastward in P. repens, and increased with seed predation intensity in section Exsertae. For cross-species comparisons, populations of monomorphic pink species occurred at higher elevations than populations of monomorphic white species, and 18 polymorphic species spanned broader elevational gradients than 13 monomorphic species. These results suggest that divergent selection along elevational clines has repeatedly favoured polymorphism, and that more uniform selection in altitudinally restricted species may promote colour monomorphism. Our findings are, to our knowledge, the first to link selection acting within species to the presence and absence of colour polymorphism at broader phylogenetic scales.

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