Journal Article

Extra petals in the buttercup (<i>Ranunculus repens</i>) provide a quick method to estimate the age of meadows

John Warren

in Annals of Botany

Published on behalf of The Annals of Botany Company

Volume 104, issue 4, pages 785-788
Published in print September 2009 | ISSN: 0305-7364
Published online June 2009 | e-ISSN: 1095-8290 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/aob/mcp139
Extra petals in the buttercup (Ranunculus repens) provide a quick method to estimate the age of meadows

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

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Background and Aims

There is a widely used crude method to estimate the age of hedgerows (Hooper's rule) based on species' richness. The aim of this study was to try and establish a similar field method for estimating the age of grasslands based on the accumulation of macro-somatic mutations.

Methods

A countrywide survey was carried out by the British public to investigate the relationship between grassland age and the number of Ranunculus repens (creeping buttercup) plants with extra petals. In addition the relationship between grassland age and R. repens pollen viability was also investigated.

Key Results

Each plant with flowers with additional petals in a sample of 100 was found to equate to approx. 7 years. A higher significant correlation was observed between pollen viability and population age; however, this is not amenable to providing field estimates.

Conclusions

The age of British grasslands can be easily and reliably estimated in the field by counting the number flowers with additional petals in R. repens in meadows up to 200 years old. An attempt to estimate the heritability of extra petals suggests that the phenotype results from the slow accumulation of somatic mutations in a species that primarily reproduces vegetatively.

Keywords: Conservation; meadow; Müller's ratchet; petal number; pollen viability; Ranunculus repens; buttercup; somatic mutation

Journal Article.  2608 words.  Illustrated.

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

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