CSR ecological strategies and plant mating systems: outcrossing increases with competitiveness but stress-tolerance is related to mixed mating

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Abstract

A number of plant traits influence the success of fertilization and reproduction in plants. Collectively these traits represent ecological syndromes that are of evolutionary significance. However, while an association between mating system and colonizing ability has been proposed, the existence of a broader relationship between mating system and a species' position in ecological succession has not been extensively investigated. Grime's CSR theory stresses that an ecological succession can involve changes from colonizing to either competitive or stress-tolerant strategies. How distinct dimensions of competitiveness and stress tolerance covary with mating systems has still not been considered. We designed a comparative approach to evaluate the link between mating system, life form and CSR strategies for 1996 herbaceous and woody species. We found that CSR strategies are significantly related to mating systems. Ruderal species – colonizers in early succession – were mostly selfers while more competitive species were more often outcrossers. On the other hand, greater physiological stress tolerance was associated with mixed mating systems. Outcrossing is classically expected to be advantageous for most life history strategies other than colonizers, but we suggest that reproductive assurance can counterbalance this effect in stressful environments where populations are sparse and pollinators are rare. Therefore, our results emphasize that competition and abiotic stresses are not equivalent selective pressures on the evolution of mating systems. Finally, we found plant life span to convey additional information on mating system variation, supporting its role for mating system evolution. These findings encourage further investigation of the evolutionary role of ecological strategies as syndromes of traits and suggest that the emergence of large databases of plant traits will help address the major evolutionary hypotheses on such syndromes.

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