, Volume 35, Issue 2, pp 203-210

The effect of drought stress on the sex ratio variation ofSilene otites

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Under dry environmental conditions the sex ratio of many dioecious plants is male-biased, which is usually explained by the higher susceptibility of females to drought stress. We investigated if spatio-temporal variation in the sex ratio ofSilene otites could be explained by the higher sensitivity of female plants to drought stress as compared to males. Long-term field observations, however, did not support this hypothesis. The sex ratio in 34 patches at the study site in Central Germany changed from slightly female biased in 1994 to strongly male-biased in 1997 and 1998. The interannual change in the proportion of plants that were female was positively correlated with the number of days with soil-water deficit in the late summer, suggesting higher mortality in males than in females under drought stress. In two closely studied patches, mortality in males was also higher than in females, although this difference could not be related to drought stress. These field observations were supported by an experiment with potted plants in two climate chambers, in which male mortality was higher during a three-week period without water supply. We conclude that the often reported male bias in patches ofS. otites is not caused by sexual differences in the sensitivity to drought stress. Field data in this study, however, suggest that maleS. otites plants flower earlier than females, which causes a shift in sex ratio to more male bias among flowering plants.