Population size, female fecundity, and sex ratio variation in gynodioecious Plantago maritima

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Theory predicts that the sex ratio of gynodioecious populations (in which hermaphrodites and females coexist) will be affected by the relative female fitness of females and hermaphrodites, and by founder events and genetic drift in small populations. We documented the sex ratio and size of 104 populations of the gynodioecious, perennial herb Plantago maritima in four archipelagos in eastern Sweden and western Finland (from latitude 53 to 64 °N). The sex ratio varied significantly both among and within archipelagos (range 0–70% females, median 6.3% females). The frequency of females was highest in the northernmost archipelago and lowest in the southernmost archipelago. As predicted, females were more frequently missing from small than from large populations, and the variance in sex ratio increased with decreasing population size. The relative fecundity of female plants (mean seed output per female/mean seed output per hermaphrodite) ranged from 0.43 to 2.16 (median 1.01, n = 12 populations). Among the 12 populations sampled for seed production (four in each of three archipelagos), the frequency of females was positively related to relative fecundity of females and negatively related to population size. The results suggest that the local sex ratio is influenced both by the relative fecundity of females and hermaphrodites and by stochastic processes in small populations.

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