Effect of elevation on sexual reproduction in alpine populations of Saxifraga oppositifolia (Saxifragaceae)
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Self-compatibility in high arctic and alpine areas is regarded as an adaptation to low pollinator abundance. However, high genetic variability as a consequence of outcrossing is, with regard to population persistence, favorable in highly stochastic environments such as tundra habitats. To evaluate these contradictory scenarios, I performed in situ pollination experiments to examine the breeding system of the predominant outcrosser Saxifraga oppositifolia in ten populations at two different elevations in the Swiss Alps. Pollinator limitation was detected at both elevations, but fruit set in naturally pollinated flowers was only slightly less at the higher elevation. Increased pollinator limitation at high compared with low elevation thus could not be demonstrated in this experiment. Hand-crossings yielded equal mean proportion seed set at both elevations, and so did hand-selfings. This constant pattern of the breeding system in S. oppositifolia indicates selective factors that lead to the maintenance of a high level of outcrossing even in high-elevation populations. Based on sex allocation models, it was expected that a high ovule number should be selectively advantageous in a plant-pollinator system where chance visitation or selfing play important roles. However, female reproductive offer in terms of ovule number per flower did not change from low to high elevation. Since neither increased pollinator limitation nor increased seed set in selfed flowers was found at high compared with low elevation, the prerequisites for testing the hypothesis were not given. This study contradicts the hypothesis that inimical environmental factors in alpine or arctic habitats necessarily select for increased selfing rates in a preferentially outcrossing species like S. oppositifolia.
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