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Evolution of Autonomous Selfing in Marginal Habitats: Spatiotemporal Variation in the Floral Traits of the Distylous Primula wannanensis

  • Zhang, Wei1, 2
  • Hu, Ying Feng1
  • He, Xiao1
  • Zhou, Wei3, 4, 5
  • Shao, Jian Wen1, 2
  • 1 College of Life Sciences, Anhui Normal University, Wuhu , (China)
  • 2 Provincial Key Laboratory of Conservation and Utilization of Biological Resources, Wuhu , (China)
  • 3 Germplasm Bank of Wild Species, Kunming Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Kunming , (China)
  • 4 CAS Key Laboratory for Plant Diversity and Biogeography of East Asia, Kunming Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Kunming , (China)
  • 5 Lijiang Forest Biodiversity National Observation and Research Station, Kunming Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Lijiang , (China)
Published Article
Frontiers in Plant Science
Frontiers Media SA
Publication Date
Dec 16, 2021
DOI: 10.3389/fpls.2021.781281
  • Plant Science
  • Original Research


Outcrossing plant species are more likely to exhibit autonomous selfing in marginal habitats to ensure reproduction under conditions of limited pollinator and/or mate availability. Distyly is a classical paradigm that promotes outcrossing; however, little is known about the variation in floral traits associated with distylous syndrome in marginal populations. In this study, we compared the variation in floral traits including stigma and anther height, corolla tube length, herkogamy, and corolla diameter between the central and peripheral populations of the distylous Primula wannanensis, and assessed the variation of floral traits at early and late florescence stages for each population. To evaluate the potential consequences of the variation in floral traits on the mating system, we investigated seed set in each population under both open-pollinated and pollinator-excluded conditions. The flower size of both short- and long-styled morphs was significantly reduced in late-opening flowers compared with early opening flowers in both central and peripheral populations. Sex-organ reciprocity was perfect in early opening flowers; however, it was largely weakened in the late-opening flowers of peripheral populations compared with central populations. Of these flowers, disproportionate change in stigma height (elongated in S-morph and shortened in L-morph) was the main cause of reduced herkogamy, and seed set was fairly high under pollinator-excluded condition. Our results provide empirical support for the hypothesis on the evolution of delayed autonomous selfing in marginal populations of distylous species. Unsatisfactory pollinator service is likely to have promoted reproductive assurance of distylous plants with largely reduced herkogamy mimicking “homostyles.”

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