The floral morphospace - a modern comparative approach to study angiosperm evolution

Marion Chartier, Florian Jabbour, Sylvain Gerber, Philipp Mitteroecker, Hervé Sauquet, Maria von Balthazar, Yannick Städler, Peter R. Crane, Jürg Schönenberger

Publications: Contribution to journalArticlePeer Reviewed


Morphospaces are mathematical representations used for studying the evolution of morphological diversity and for the evaluation of evolved shapes among theoretically possible ones. Although widely used in zoology, they - with few exceptions - have been disregarded in plant science and in particular in the study of broad-scale patterns of floral structure and evolution. Here we provide basic information on the morphospace approach; we review earlier morphospace applications in plant science; and as a practical example, we construct and analyze a floral morphospace. Morphospaces are usually visualized with the help of ordination methods such as principal component analysis (PCA) or nonmetric multidimensional scaling (NMDS). The results of these analyses are then coupled with disparity indices that describe the spread of taxa in the space. We discuss these methods and apply modern statistical tools to the first and only angiosperm-wide floral morphospace published by Stebbins in 1951. Despite the incompleteness of Stebbins' original dataset, our analyses highlight major, angiosperm-wide trends in the diversity of flower morphology and thereby demonstrate the power of this previously neglected approach in plant science.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)841-853
JournalNew Phytologist
Publication statusPublished - 19 Aug 2014

Austrian Fields of Science 2012

  • 106042 Systematic botany
  • 106008 Botany
  • 106012 Evolutionary research


  • Disparity
  • Fitness landscape
  • Floral structure
  • Morphology
  • Morphospace
  • Multivariate statistics
  • Pollination syndrome

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