Journal Article

Modification of flower architecture during early stages in the evolution of self-fertilization

Mario Vallejo-Marín and Spencer C. H. Barrett

in Annals of Botany

Published on behalf of The Annals of Botany Company

Volume 103, issue 6, pages 951-962
Published in print April 2009 | ISSN: 0305-7364
Published online February 2009 | e-ISSN: 1095-8290 | DOI:
Modification of flower architecture during early stages in the evolution of self-fertilization

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


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Background and Aims

The evolution of selfing from outcrossing is characterized by a series of morphological changes to flowers culminating in the selfing syndrome. However, which morphological traits initiate increased self-pollination and which are accumulated after self-fertilization establishes is poorly understood. Because the expression of floral traits may depend on the conditions experienced by an individual during flower development, investigation of changes in mating system should also account for environmental and developmental factors. Here, early stages in the evolution of self-pollination are investigated by comparing floral traits among Brazilian populations of Eichhornia paniculata (Pontederiaceae), an annual aquatic that displays variation in selfing rates associated with the breakdown of tristyly to semi-homostyly.


Thirty-one Brazilian populations under uniform glasshouse conditions were compared to investigate genetic and environmental influences on flower size and stigma–anther separation (herkogamy), two traits that commonly vary in association with transitions to selfing. Within-plant variation in herkogamy was also examined and plants grown under contrasting environmental conditions were compared to examine to what extent this trait exhibits phenotypic plasticity.

Key Results

In E. paniculata a reduction in herkogamy is the principal modification initiating the evolution of selfing. Significantly, reduced herkogamy was restricted to the mid-styled morph and occurred independently of flower size. Significant genetic variation for herkogamy was detected among populations and families, including genotypes exhibiting developmental instability of stamen position with bimodal distributions of herkogamy values. Cloned genets exposed to contrasting growth conditions demonstrated environmental control of herkogamy and genotypic differences in plasticity of this trait.


The ability to modify herkogamy independently of other floral traits, genetic variation in the environmental sensitivity of herkogamy, and the production of modified and unmodified flowers within some individuals, reveal the potential for dynamic control of the mating system in a species that commonly confronts heterogeneous aquatic environments.

Keywords: Eichhornia paniculata; expressivity; flower morphology; herkogamy; phenotypic plasticity; pleiotropy; population variation; self-fertilization; stigma–anther separation; outcrossing; tristyly

Journal Article.  8378 words.  Illustrated.

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

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