Consequences of inbreeding for offspring fitness and gender in Silene vulgaris, a gynodioecious plant


D. E. McCauley, Department of Biological Sciences, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN 37235 USA. Tel.: 615-322-0119; fax: 615-343-0336; e-mail:


Abstract In gynodioecious plants, hermaphrodite and female plants co-occur in the same population. In these systems gender typically depends on whether a maternally inherited cytoplasmic male sterility factor (CMS) is counteracted by nuclear restorer alleles. These restorer alleles are often genetically dominant. Although plants of the female morph are obligatorily outcrossing, hermaphrodites may self. This selfing increases homozygosity and may thus have two effects: (1) it may decrease fitness (i.e. result in inbreeding depression) and (ii) it may increase homozygosity of the nuclear restorer alleles and therefore increase the production of females. This, in turn, enhances outcrossing in the following generation. In order to test the latter hypothesis, experimental crosses were conducted using individuals derived from four natural populations of Silene vulgaris, a gynodioecious plant. Treatments included self-fertilization of hermaphrodites, outcrossing of hermaphrodites and females using pollen derived from the same source population as the pollen recipients, and outcrossing hermaphrodites and females using pollen derived from different source populations. Offspring were scored for seed germination, survivorship to flowering and gender. The products of self-fertilization had reduced survivorship at both life stages when compared with the offspring of outcrossed hermaphrodites or females. In one population the fitness of offspring produced by within-population outcrossing of females was significantly less than the fitness of offspring produced by crossing females with hermaphrodites from other populations. Self-fertilization of hermaphrodites produced a smaller proportion of hermaphroditic offspring than did outcrossing hermaphrodites. Outcrossing females within populations produced a smaller proportion of hermaphrodite offspring than did crossing females with hermaphrodites from other populations. These results are consistent with a cytonuclear system of sex determination with dominant nuclear restorers, and are discussed with regard to how the mating system and the genetics of sex determination interact to influence the evolution of inbreeding depression.