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Patterns of male sterility within and among populations of the distylous shrub Erythroxylum havanense (erythroxylaceae)


Distyly, a reproductive system characterized by the presence of long-styled (thrum). and short-styled (pin) individuals within a population, has been repeatedly used as a model for the study of the evolution of the reproductive systems in plants. Erythroxylum havanense is a distylous species in which most thrum plants fail to develop a fertile androecium, thus behaving as male-sterile or partially male-sterile plants. Short-styled (thrum) individuals have an increased performance as female parents, thereby compensating for their loss of male fitness. Previous studies of populations within close proximity to each other suggest that E. havanense may be involved in a process of gender specialization in which, unlike other heterostylous species, thrum plants are specializing as females and pins (long-styled) as males. In this paper we describe more general patterns of male sterility, one of the first steps in the evolution of gender specialization, among populations of the distylous shrub Erythroxylum havanense. Pollen germination differed among populations (range 0.52 ± 0.03 to 0.06 ± 0.04), and between morphs. Pollen from pin plants was almost two times (1.89) as fertile as that from thrums (0.36 ± 0.03 and 0.19 ± 0.03, pin and thrums respectively). Thrums were significantly more male sterile in four out of five populations. The population where differences between the floral morphs were not apparent showed the lowest levels of pollen fertility. Accordingly, our results indicate that populations of E. havanense show marked differences in pollen fertility and higher male sterility associated with the thrum morph. We hypothesize that differences between morphs could be explained if restorers of male sterility are linked to the distyly haplotype, while differences in genes associated with male sterility could explain the variation among populations. Overall, the prevalence of thrum-biased male sterility across populations suggests that E. havanense is subject to a process of gender specialization.

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Correspondence to César A. Domínguez.

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Cuevas, E., Molina-Freaner, F., Eguiarte, L.E. et al. Patterns of male sterility within and among populations of the distylous shrub Erythroxylum havanense (erythroxylaceae). Plant Ecol 176, 165–172 (2005).

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  • Distyly
  • Gender specialization
  • Male sterility