• Geographic parthenogenesis;
  • hermaphrodite plants;
  • reproductive mode;
  • short- and long-range dispersal

Classical models of the evolution of sex typically assume that an asexual lineage, once derived, is reproductively separate from the sexual lineage from which it was derived. However, many asexuals, including hermaphrodite plants, produce male gametes capable of fertilising the eggs of co-existing sexuals, giving rise to sexual and asexual progeny. This male function of asexuals may be poor, and it has been proposed that this could favour sexuality and adversely affect the successful establishment of asexual lineages. We show that things are more complicated than this; the effect is frequency-dependent and poor male function may sometimes favour asexuality. In a spatially distributed population of flowering plants, it can prevent the successful invasion of either reproductive mode by the other via long-range dispersal. Consequently invasions must be driven by short-range dispersal, and are therefore extremely slow. Thus poor male function favours long-term co-existence of sexuals and asexuals. When coupled with the superior ability of asexuals to colonise virgin territory after an Ice Age, it may explain current ecological distribution patterns.