How have advances in comparative floral development influenced our understanding of floral evolution?
Evolutionary developmental biology has come to prominence in the past two decades, in both the plant kingdom and the animal kingdom, particularly following the description of homeotic genes linked to key morphological transitions. A primary goal of evolutionary developmental biology (“evo-devo”) is to define how developmental programs are modified to generate novel or labile morphologies. This requires an understanding of the molecular genetic basis of these programs and of the evolutionary changes they have undergone. The past decade has seen the establishment of a common language and common standards, and these changes have greatly improved the integration of evo-devo. Recently, a more comparative approach has been added to mechanistic developmental biology. In this review we attempt to show how, by using this “next-generation evo-devo” approach, insights into both developmental biology and evolutionary biology can be gained. Although the concepts we discuss are more broadly applicable, we have focused our examples on traits of the angiosperm flower, a structure that has undergone enormous morphological and developmental evolution since its relatively recent appearance in the fossil record.