Journal Article

Limited mate availability decreases reproductive success of fragmented populations of <i>Linnaea borealis</i>, a rare, clonal self-incompatible plant

A. R. Scobie and C. C. Wilcock

in Annals of Botany

Published on behalf of The Annals of Botany Company

Volume 103, issue 6, pages 835-846
Published in print April 2009 | ISSN: 0305-7364
Published online January 2009 | e-ISSN: 1095-8290 | DOI:
Limited mate availability decreases reproductive success of fragmented populations of Linnaea borealis, a rare, clonal self-incompatible plant

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  • Ecology and Conservation
  • Evolutionary Biology
  • Plant Sciences and Forestry


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Background and Aims

Small populations of rare plant species are increasingly reported to have high levels of reproductive failure. The objective of this study was to understand the principal constraints on sexual reproduction in small fragmented populations of a rare clonal self-incompatible plant.


The pollinator spectrum, diversity of flower colour, natural pollination and fruit-set levels of L. borealis were examined in Scotland. Artificially crossed seed production was compared within and between different flower colour types and patches.

Key Results

Linnaea borealis was pollinated by a diverse spectrum of insect species and the principal pollinators were muscid, syrphid and empid flies which mostly moved only small distances (<0·25 m) between flowers when foraging. Natural pollination levels were high, indicating high pollinator effectiveness, but fruit set was very low in most patches. Flower colour diversity was low in most patches and only those with a diversity of flower colour types had high fruiting success. Pollination experiments showed L. borealis to be highly self-incompatible and artificial crosses within and between patches and flower colour types confirmed that low fruit success was the result of a lack of compatible mates and limited pollen movement between them. Evidence of isolation from pollen exchange was apparent at as little as 6 m and severe at 30 m and beyond.


Limited mate availability and isolation from pollen exchange compromise the reproductive success of fragmented populations of L. borealis in Scotland. A diversity of compatible mates situated within close proximity (<6 m) is the key requirement to ensure high natural fruiting success. This study emphasizes that an understanding of the breeding system, pollinator spectrum and potential for interconnectivity via pollinator movement are fundamental to identify isolation distances and to establish when conservation intervention is necessary for rare species.

Keywords: Linnaea borealis; clonal; self-incompatible; reproductive failure; fragmented populations; isolation; pollination

Journal Article.  8093 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Ecology and Conservation ; Evolutionary Biology ; Plant Sciences and Forestry

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