Pollen character evolution in yams (Dioscorea: Dioscoreaceae) was investigated in relation to the phylogeny obtained from a recent combined analysis of rbcL and matK gene sequences. The following characters were evaluated: pollen size, aperture number, sexine ornamentation, perforation density, and orbicule presence or absence. Continuous characters were coded using the gap weighting method. Each character was optimized using MacClade onto a tree selected at random from analyses based on molecular data of Wilkin et al. The results indicate that in Dioscorea pollen size decreases in the more derived clades. The latter observation may be related to the evolution of annually replaced tubers. Aperture number increases from one in the monosulcate Stenophora clade (sister to the rest of Dioscorea) to two in other Dioscorea clades. This may be related to the presence of simultaneous microsporogenesis in Dioscorea. A perforate sexine is plesiomorphic in Dioscorea and a striate pattern has evolved more than once and is particularly characteristic in the Malagasy clade. Sexine ornamentation in the Stenophora clade is diverse. The endemic allotetraploid D. pyrenaica is characterized by large, monosulcate, gemmate pollen. The Dioscorea B clade is characterized by pollen with small, dense perforations. Orbicules occur in all Dioscorea species, but are absent in most of the outgroup taxa.

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Systematic Botany
Staff publications

Schols, P., Wilkin, P., Furness, C. A., Huysmans, S., & Smets, E. (2005). Pollen Evolution in Yams (Dioscorea: Dioscoreaceae). Systematic Botany, 30(4), 750–758.