Reproductive assurance weakens pollinator-mediated selection on flower size

The consequences of delayed selfing by reproductive assurance for selection on flower size in mixed-mating species is relevant to understand the evolution of plant breeding systems.

In animal-pollinated plants, direct and indirect selection for large and small flowers in predominantly outcrossing and selfing species, respectively, is a common consequence of pollen limitation (PL). However, many hermaphroditic species show a mixed-mating system known as delayed selfing, which provides reproductive assurance (RA) only when outcrossing is not realized. Although RA is expected to reduce pollinator-mediated selection towards larger flowers, the consequences of delayed selfing for selection on flower size in mixed-mating species remain overlooked. Teixido and Aizen investigated whether RA weakens selection on flower size in Tuberaria guttata, a mixed-mating annual herb.

Tuberaria guttata

Pollinator visitation increased and RA decreased with flower size in all populations. Increasing RA diminished but did not fully alleviate PL, because of early-acting inbreeding depression. In the least-visited and most pollen-limited population, RA increased seed production by >200 %, intensely counteracting the strong pollinator-mediated selection for larger corollas. In the most-visited population, however, RA increased seed production by an average of only 9 %. This population exhibited the largest fraction of individuals that showed a decrease in seed production due to selfing and the weakest pollinator-mediated selection on flower size.

The results suggest that the balance between the extent of RA and outcrossing contributes to determine flower size in mixed-mating systems. Pollinator-mediated selection favours larger flowers by increasing outcrossed seeds, but the benefits of RA greatly lessen this effect, especially under severe conditions of pollen limitation. Their findings also indicate that a mixed-mating system can represent an ‘evolutionary trap’ under an adequate pollinator supply.

Further reading

Teixido, A. L., & Aizen, M. A. (2019). Reproductive assurance weakens pollinator-mediated selection on flower size in an annual mixed-mating species. Annals of Botany, 123(6), 1067–1077. https://doi.org/10.1093/aob/mcz014