Changes in ploidy occurred early in the diversification of some animal and plant lineages and represent an ongoing phenomenon in others. While the prevalence of polyploid lineages indicates that this phenomenon is a common and successful evolutionary transition, whether polyploidization itself has a significant effect on patterns and rates of diversification remains an open question. Here we review evidence for the creative role of polyploidy in evolution. We present new estimates for the incidence of polyploidy in ferns and flowering plants based on a simple model describing transitions between odd and even base chromosome numbers. These new estimates indicate that ploidy changes may represent from 2 to 4% of speciation events in flowering plants and 7% in ferns. Speciation via polyploidy is likely to be one of the more predominant modes of sympatric speciation in plants, owing to its potentially broad-scale effects on gene regulation and developmental processes, effects that can produce immediate shifts in morphology, breeding system, and ecological tolerances. Theoretical models support the potential for increased adaptability in polyploid lineages. The evidence suggests that polyploidization can produce shifts in genetic systems and phenotypes that have the potential to result in increased evolutionary diversification, yet conclusive evidence that polyploidy has changed rates and patterns of diversification remains elusive.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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