Document Type


Date of Original Version



Nutrition and Food Sciences



A key question in plant dispersal via animal vectors is where and why fruit colors vary between species and how color relates to other fruit traits. To better understand the factors shaping the evolution of fruit color diversity, we tested for the existence of syndromes of traits (color, morphology, and nutrition) in the fruits of Viburnum. We placed these results in a larger phylogenetic context and reconstructed ancestral states to assess how Viburnum fruit traits have evolved across the clade.


We find that blue Viburnum fruits are not very juicy, and have high lipid content and large, round endocarps surrounded by a small quantity of pulp. Red fruits display the opposite suite of traits: they are very juicy with low lipid content and smaller, flatter endocarps. The ancestral Viburnum fruit may have gone through a sequence of color changes before maturation (green to yellow to red to black), though our reconstructions are equivocal. In one major clade of Viburnum (Nectarotinus), fruits mature synchronously with reduced intermediate color stages. Most transitions between fruit colors occurred in this synchronously fruiting clade.


It is widely accepted that fruit trait diversity has primarily been driven by the differing perceptual abilities of bird versus mammal frugivores. Yet within a clade of largely bird-dispersed fruits, we find clear correlations between color, morphology, and nutrition. These correlations are likely driven by a shift from sequential to synchronous development, followed by diversification in color, nutrition, and morphology. A deeper understanding of fruit evolution within clades will elucidate the degree to which such syndromes structure extant fruit diversity.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Supplementary Data

Supplementary data from this publication has been deposited in Dryad. Available: