The global biogeography of polyploid plants

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Deciphering the global distribution of polyploid plants is fundamental for understanding plant evolution and ecology. Many factors have been hypothesized to affect the uneven distribution of polyploid plants across the globe. Nevertheless, the lack of large comparative datasets has restricted such studies to local floras and to narrow taxonomical scopes, limiting our understanding of the underlying drivers of polyploid plant distribution. We present a map portraying the worldwide polyploid frequencies, based on extensive spatial data coupled with phylogeny-based polyploidy inference for tens of thousands of species. This allowed us to assess the potential global drivers affecting polyploid distribution. Our data reveal a clear latitudinal trend, with polyploid frequency increasing away from the equator. Climate, especially temperature, appears to be the most influential predictor of polyploid distribution. However, we find this effect to be mostly indirect, mediated predominantly by variation in plant lifeforms and, to a lesser extent, by taxonomical composition and species richness. Thus, our study presents an emerging view of polyploid distribution that highlights attributes that facilitate the establishment of new polyploid lineages by providing polyploids with sufficient time (that is, perenniality) and space (low species richness) to compete with pre-adapted diploid relatives.

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Fig. 1: The global distribution of polyploid frequency.
Fig. 2: GLM results for different predictors associated with polyploid percentage.
Fig. 3: The relative importance of predictors to polyploid frequency.
Fig. 4: Path analysis.


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We thank S. P. Otto for instructive comments and G. Berman and U. Roll for technical assistance. This work was supported by the Israel Science Foundation (grant number 961/17) to I.M., by the Czech Science Foundation (grant number P505 14–30313S) to P.S. and by a fellowship provided by the Edmond J. Safra Center for Bioinformatics at Tel-Aviv University to A.R.

Author information

A.R. and I.M. designed the study. A.R., M.N. and L.G. collected and processed the data. M.D. and N.S. reconstructed phylogenies and provided ploidy-level inferences. A.R. and P.S. analysed data. A.R., P.S., S.M. and J.B. analysed results. A.R. and I.M. drafted the manuscript. All authors provided comments and helped to improve the manuscript. I.M supervised the study.

Correspondence to Itay Mayrose.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Texts 1–5, Supplementary Figures 1–3, and Supplementary Tables 2, 6, 8, 9 and 12

Reporting Summary

Supplementary Table 1

Lifeform database. The growth form, life cycle and lifeform of angiosperm species, including the ones analysed in this study

Supplementary Table 3

Ecoregions with polyploidy prevalence. A table describing the 827 ecoregions as defined by WWF with their relative number of species found in this research database (taxa with or without ploidy inference) as well as the percentage of polyploids in each. Ecoregions without data in the database are assigned with NA

Supplementary Table 4

The 528 ecoregions used for the analyses with their respective attributes. Occurrences denote for the number of data points in our database belonging to the respective ecoregion. Species are the number of recorded species in this ecoregions regardless of whether a ploidy inference was made or not. Diploids and polyploids are the number of species with this inference in the ecoregion. Polyploid percent is the number of polyploids out of the number of diploids and polyploids (frequency per ecoregion). The Binomial PV shows the significance of the Binomial test comparing the ecoregions frequency to its surrounding biome. This is followed by the rest of the eco-climatic attributes tested in this study

Supplementary Table 5

The results of the GLM test, together with the results of GLM over 100 bootstrap samplings. P-values are presented after multiple testing Bonferroni correction. The sample size tested for each variable is reported in the table

Supplementary Table 7

Relative importance results. Relative importance results of predictors to polyploid frequency across ecoregions (n = 528) with 100 bootstrap samplings

Supplementary Table 10

NCBI taxonomy classification into six major taxonomical groups. Each taxon in the database was classified to one of the six major taxonomical groups, based on their NCBI taxonomy

Supplementary Table 11

The set of rules used in each source for constructing the lifeform dataset. Each of the seven sources of plant lifeform obtained their own set of rules, based on which each taxon in our database was assigned with its final lifeform

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