Diversity and Divergence: Evolution of secondary metabolism in the tropical tree genus Inga

Dale L. Forrister, María-José Endara, Abrianna J. Soule, Gordon C. Younkin, Anthony G. Mills, John Lokvam, Kyle Dexter, Toby Pennington, Catherine A. Kidner, James A. Nicholls, Oriane Loiseau, Thomas A. Kursar, Phyllis D. Coley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Plants are widely recognized as chemical factories, with each species producing dozens to hundreds of unique secondary metabolites. These compounds shape the interactions between plants and their natural enemies. We explore the evolutionary patterns and processes by which plants generate chemical diversity, from evolving novel compounds to unique chemical profiles.

We characterized the chemical profile of one-third of the species of tropical rainforest trees in the genus Inga (~ 100, Fabaceae) using UPLC-MS based metabolomics and applied phylogenetic comparative methods to understand the mode of chemical evolution.

We show: 1) Each Inga species contain structurally unrelated compounds and high levels of phytochemical diversity. 2) Closely related species have divergent chemical profiles, with individual compounds, compound classes and chemical profiles showing little to no phylogenetic signal. 3) At the evolutionary time scale, a species’ chemical profile shows a signature of divergent adaptation. At the ecological time scale, sympatric species were the most divergent, implying it is also advantageous to maintain a unique chemical profile from community members. 4) Finally, we integrate these patterns with a model for how chemical diversity evolves.

Taken together, these results show that phytochemical diversity and divergence are fundamental to the ecology and evolution of plants.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)631-642
JournalNew Phytologist
Issue number2
Early online date20 Oct 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2023

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Inga
  • chemical defense
  • evolution
  • metabolomics
  • phytochemical diversity
  • plant specialized metabolism
  • secondary metabolism


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