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Gender dimorphism and polyploidy are important evolutionary transitions that have evolved repeatedly in many plant families. We show that gender dimorphism in North American Lycium(Solanaceae) has evolved in polyploid, self-compatible taxa whose closest relatives are cosexual, self-incompatible diploids. This has occurred independently in South African Lycium. We present additional evidence for this pathway to gender dimorphism from 12 genera involving at least 20 independent evolutionary events. We propose that polyploidy is a trigger of unrecognized importance for the evolution of gender dimorphism, which operates by disrupting self-incompatibility and leading to inbreeding depression. Subsequently, male sterile mutants invade and increase because they are unable to inbreed.
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