Phenotypic variation of floral organs in flowering crabapples and its taxonomic significance Zhou, Ting; Ning, Kun; Zhang, Wangxiang; Chen, Hong; Lu, Xiaoqing; Zhang, Donglin; El-Kassaby, Yousry A.; Bian, Jian
Background In angiosperms, phenotypic variation of floral organs is often considered as the traditional basis for the evolutionary relationship of different taxonomic groups above the species level. However, little is known about that at or below the species level. Here, we experimentally tested the phenotypic variation of Malus floral organs using combined methods of intraspecific uniformity test, interspecific distinctness analysis, principal component analysis, Pearson correlation analysis, and Q-type cluster analysis. The ancestor-inclined distribution characteristic analysis of Malus species and cultivars floral attributes was also carried out, so as to explore its taxonomic significance. Results 15/44 phenotypic traits (e.g., flower shape, flower type, flower diameter, ...) were highly consistent, distinguishable, and independent and could be used as the basis for Malus germplasm taxonomy. The studied 142 taxa were divided into two groups (A, B) and five sub-groups (A₁, A₂, B₁, B₂, B₃), with significantly variable floral phenotypic attributes between groups and within sub-groups. Malus natural species were relatively clustered in the same section (series) while homologous cultivars showed evidence of ancestor-inclined distribution characteristics. However, no significant correlation between the evolutionary order of sections (Sect. Docyniopsis → Sect. Chloromeles → Sect. Sorbomalus → Sect. Eumalus) and group/sub-groups (B₃ → B₂ → B₁ → A). Conclusions Phenotypic variation of floral organs could better explore the genetic relationship between Malus taxa. The findings improved our cognition of floral phenotypic variation taxonomic significance under the species level.
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