Against the odds: complete outcrossing in a monoecious clonal seagrassPosidonia australis (Posidoniaceae)

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Abstract

• Background and Aims

Seagrasses are marine, flowering plants with a hydrophilous pollination strategy. In these plants, successful mating requires dispersal of filamentous pollen grains through the water column to receptive stigmas. Approximately 40 % of seagrass species are monoecious, and therefore little pollen movement is required if inbreeding is tolerated. Outcrossing in these species is further impacted by clonality, which is variable, but can be extensive in large, dense meadows. Despite this, little is known about the interaction between clonal structure, genetic diversity and mating systems in hydrophilous taxa.

• Methods

Polymorphic microsatellite DNA markers were used to characterize genetic diversity, clonal structure, mating system and realized pollen dispersal in two meadows of the temperate, monoecious seagrass, Posidonia australis, in Cockburn Sound, Western Australia.

• Key Results

Within the two sampled meadows, genetic diversity was moderate among the maternal shoots (R = 0·45 and 0·64) and extremely high in the embryos (R = 0·93–0·97). Both meadows exhibited a highly clumping (or phalanx) structure among clones, with spatial autocorrelation analysis showing significant genetic structure among shoots and embryos up to 10–15 m. Outcrossing rates were not significantly different from one. Pollen dispersal distances inferred from paternity assignment averaged 30·8 and 26·8 m, which was larger than the mean clone size (12·8 and 13·8 m).

• Conclusions

These results suggest highly effective movement of pollen in the water column. Despite strong clonal structure and moderate genetic diversity within meadows, hydrophilous pollination is an effective vector for completely outcrossed offspring. The different localized water conditions at each site (highly exposed conditions vs. weak directional flow) appear to have little influence on the success and pattern of successful pollination in the two meadows.

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