Increased pre-dispersal seed predation in sunflower crop-wild hybrids
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The fitness of crop-wild hybrids can influence gene flow between crop and wild populations. Seed predation levels in crop-wild hybrid plants can be an important factor in determining plant fitness, especially in large-seeded crops such as sunflower. To determine patterns of pre-dispersal seed predation, seeds were collected from wild sunflowers (Helianthus annuus L.) and wild×crop F1 hybrids at three experimental field sites in eastern Kansas. Seed heads were dissected and each seed was counted and scored for categories of seed damage by lepidopteran and coleopteran larvae. Hybrid seed heads showed significantly higher levels of insect-damaged seeds. The average hybrid plant had 36.5% of its seeds (or 45.1 seeds per plant) eaten by insect larvae while the average wild plant lost only 1.8% (or 95 seeds) to seed predators. Hybrid populations had higher levels of total insect damage even when date of flowering, flower head diameter, and the number of open heads within the study site were accounted for. These results suggest that the reduced fecundity of F1 crop-wild sunflower hybrids demonstrated in other studies may be augmented by the increased seed predation in hybrid flower heads. Fecundity estimates of crop-wild hybrid and wild plants that disregard differential seed predation levels may not accurately reflect the actual relative contributions of hybrid and wild plants to future generations.
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