Journal Article

Mating system shifts on the trailing edge

Donald A. Levin

in Annals of Botany

Published on behalf of The Annals of Botany Company

Volume 109, issue 3, pages 613-620
Published in print February 2012 | ISSN: 0305-7364
Published online October 2011 | e-ISSN: 1095-8290 | DOI:
Mating system shifts on the trailing edge

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


Show Summary Details



The trailing edges of species ranges are becoming a subject of increasing interest as the environment changes due to global warming. Trailing edge populations are likely to face extinction because of a decline in numbers and an inability to evolve new adaptations with sufficient speed. Discussions of character change in the trailing edge have focused on physiological, exomorphic and phenological traits. The mating pattern within populations has not been part of the discourse, in spite of the fact that the mating pattern may affect the ability of populations to respond to environmental change and to maintain their sizes. In this paper, the case is made that a substantial increase in self-fertilization rates may occur via plastic responses to stress.

Scope and Conclusions

Small populations on the trailing edge are especially vulnerable to environmental change because of inadequate levels of cross-fertilization. Evidence is presented that a deficiency of cross-seed production is due to inadequate pollinator services and a paucity of self-incompatibility alleles within populations. Evidence also is presented that if plants are self-compatible, self-fertilization may compensate in part for this deficiency through a stress-induced increase in levels of self-compatibility and stress-induced alterations in floral morphology that elevate self-pollination. Whereas increased self-fertility may afford populations the time to adapt to their changing environments, it can be concluded that increased selfing is not a panacea for the ills of environmental change, because it will lead to substantial reductions in genetic diversity, which may render adaptation unlikely.

Keywords: Environmental change; mating system; phenotypic plasticity; self-fertilization; self-pollination; trailing edge

Journal Article.  5944 words. 

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

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