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Plants People Planet


Societal Impact Statement

Fleshy fruits provide humans with many flavorful and nutritious crops. Understanding the diversity of these plants is fundamental to managing agriculture and food security in a changing world. This study surveyed fruit trait variation across species of tomato wild relatives and explored associations among color, size, shape, sugars, and acids. These wild tomato species native to South America can be interbred with the economically important cultivated tomato. Beyond its application to tomatoes, deepening our knowledge of how fruit traits evolve together is valuable to crop improvement efforts aimed at breeding more nutritious and appealing varieties of fruits.


  • Fleshy fruits display a striking diversity of traits, many of which are important for agriculture. The evolutionary drivers of this variation are not well understood, and most studies have relied on variation found in the wild. Few studies have explored this question on a fine-grained scale with a group of recently diverged species while controlling for environmental effects.
  • We developed the tomato clade as a novel system for fruit trait evolution research by presenting the first common garden-based systematic survey of variation and phylogenetic signal in color, nutrition, and morphology traits across all 13 species of tomato wild relatives (Solanum sect. Lycopersicon). We laid the groundwork for further testing of potential evolutionary drivers by assessing patterns of clustering and correlation among disperser-relevant fruit traits as well as historical climate variables.
  • We found evidence of two distinct clusters of associated fruit traits defined by color, sugar type, and malic acid concentration. We also observed correlations between a fruit's external appearance and internal nutrient content that could function as honest signals to dispersers. Analyses of historical climate and soil variables revealed an association between red/orange/yellow fruits and high annual average temperature.
  • Our results establish the tomato clade as a promising system for testing hypotheses on the drivers of divergence behind early-stage fleshy fruit evolution, particularly selective pressure from frugivores.


Barnett:; Sharma:; Buonauro:; Gillis:; Rashidzade:; Caicedo:



UMass Amherst Open Access Policy

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.


UMass Natural History Collections Grant;UMass Graduate School Dissertation ResearchGrant; Lotta Crabtree Fellowship in ProductionAgriculture; National Science Foundation,Grant/Award Number: 1564366