Consequences of sexually dimorphic timing of emergence and flowering in Silene latifolia


Colin B. Purrington, Department of Biology, Swarthmore College, 500 College Avenue, Swarthmore, PA 19081, USA (tel. (610) 328 8621; fax (610) 328 8663; e-mail


1 Males and females of dioecious plant species often differ in a variety of secondary characteristics, such as size, flower number and flowering time, suggesting that dioecious species have sex-specific selection histories. However, a potential source of these dimorphic traits is age differences between males and females. By sowing 3000 seeds of the dioecious perennial, Silene latifolia (Caryophyllaceae), on a single day, we were able to assess the contribution of sex differences in emergence time to the development of sexually dimorphic adult traits.

2 Females emerged before males in our experimental field population, but on average males flowered first. Age differences between males and females did not therefore cause the earlier flowering of males.

3 The consequence of the detected differences in emergence and phenology between males and females was explored by path analysis. Emergence time had a strong direct effect on flower production as well as an indirect effect through flowering time. The regression coefficient of flowering time on emergence time was significantly larger for male plants.

4 A phenotypic selection analysis revealed that seedlings emerging early suffered greater mortality than those emerging later. Seedlings emerging early, however, developed into plants with more flowers, indicating that there was a trade-off between survivorship and reproductive performance. Seeds with intermediate emergence times had the highest total fitness, indicating the presence of stabilizing selection. Despite the strong mortality selection against early emergers, we detected no shift in the sex ratio compared with the sex ratio of seeds matured under low-mortality greenhouse conditions.