Journal Article

Mixed mating system in the fern <i>Asplenium scolopendrium</i>: implications for colonization potential

E. R. Jasper Wubs, G. Arjen de Groot, Heinjo J. During, Johannes C. Vogel, Michael Grundmann, Piet Bremer and Harald Schneider

in Annals of Botany

Published on behalf of The Annals of Botany Company

Volume 106, issue 4, pages 583-590
Published in print October 2010 | ISSN: 0305-7364
Published online August 2010 | e-ISSN: 1095-8290 | DOI:
Mixed mating system in the fern Asplenium scolopendrium: implications for colonization potential

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Show all results sharing these subjects:

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


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Background and Aims

Human-mediated environmental change is increasing selection pressure for the capacity in plants to colonize new areas. Habitat fragmentation combined with climate change, in general, forces species to colonize areas over longer distances. Mating systems and genetic load are important determinants of the establishment and long-term survival of new populations. Here, the mating system of Asplenium scolopendrium, a diploid homosporous fern species, is examined in relation to colonization processes.


A common environment experiment was conducted with 13 pairs of sporophytes, each from a different site. Together they constitute at least nine distinct genotypes, representing an estimated approx. 95 % of the non-private intraspecific genetic variation in Europe. Sporophyte production was recorded for gametophytes derived from each parent sporophyte. Gametophytes were grown in vitro in three different ways: (I) in isolation, (II) with a gametophyte from a different sporophyte within the same site or (III) with a partner from a different site.

Key Results

Sporophyte production was highest in among-site crosses (III), intermediate in within-site crosses (II) and was lowest in isolated gametophytes (I), strongly indicating inbreeding depression. However, intragametophytic selfing was observed in most of the genotypes tested (eight out of nine).


The results imply a mixed mating system in A. scolopendrium, with outcrossing when possible and occasional selfing when needed. Occasional intragametophytic selfing facilitates the successful colonization of new sites from a single spore. The resulting sporophyte, which will be completely homozygous, will shed large amounts of spores over time. Each year this creates a bed of gametophytes in the vicinity of the parent. Any unrelated spore which arrives is then selectively favoured to reproduce and contribute its genes to the new population. Thus, while selfing facilitates initial colonization success, inbreeding depression promotes genetically diverse populations through outcrossing. The results provide further evidence against the overly simple dichotomous distinction of fern species as either selfing or outcrossing.

Keywords: Asplenium scolopendrium; colonization; gametophyte; homosporous fern; inbreeding depression; life history; mixed mating system; selfing; sporophyte

Journal Article.  5580 words.  Illustrated.

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

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