Summary: Phylogenetic analysis reveals a scattered distribution of autumn colours
Department of Zoology, Oxford University, South Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3PS, UK
Received: 1 September 2008 Returned for revision: 24 October 2008 Accepted: 25 November 2008 Published electronically: 6 January 2009
Background and Aims Leaf colour in autumn is rarely considered informative for taxonomy, but there is now
growing interest in the evolution of autumn colours and different hypotheses are debated. Research efforts are
hindered by the lack of basic information: the phylogenetic distribution of autumn colours. It is not known
when and how autumn colours evolved.
Methods Data are reported on the autumn colours of 2368 tree species belonging to 400 genera of the temperate
regions of the world, and an analysis is made of their phylogenetic relationships in order to reconstruct the evol-
utionary origin of red and yellow in autumn leaves.
Key Results Red autumn colours are present in at least 290 species (70 genera), and evolved independently at
least 25 times. Yellow is present independently from red in at least 378 species (97 genera) and evolved at least
Conclusions The phylogenetic reconstruction suggests that autumn colours have been acquired and lost many
times during evolution. This scattered distribution could be explained by hypotheses involving some kind of
coevolutionary interaction or by hypotheses that rely on the need for photoprotection.
Key words: Autumn colour, leaf colour, comparative analysis, coevolution, photoprotection, phylogenetic