Spatial distribution of male sterility in Plantago maritima

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Sexual polymorphism in angiosperms can be explained both by the functional responses of male and female function to autogamy and geitonogamy, and by the conflict between the nuclear and cytoplasmic genomes. In predominantly hermaphrodite species, cytoplasmically determined male sterility may persist in a population because of maternal inheritance, i.e. the loss of male function does not change the fitness of the cytoplasmic genome. However, in populations with cytoplasmic male sterility, male fertility is often restored by nuclear genes. Therefore, in populations with genetical substructure, the frequencies of the different sex-morphs will fluctuate depending on the presence of both the male sterile cytoplasms, and of their specific nuclear restorer genes. In Plantago maritima, we showed that the frequencies of male sterility were highest in regions with the highest population turnover rates and that male sterile individuals were more frequently found in the lower, less dense parts of the meadows. This indicates that male sterile cytoplasms have their highest probabilities to escape their nuclear restorer genes during recolonisation in disturbed regions within populations. We also found that male sterile individuals dispersed their seeds a little bit further than did the hermaphrodites. This can be interpreted as an adaptive response to the local occurrence of nuclear restorer genes.

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