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Keywords:

  • Founder events;
  • gene flow;
  • gynodioecy;
  • pollen and seed dispersal;
  • polymorphic mating systems;
  • spatial genetic structure

Abstract

Natural selection, random processes and gene flow are known to generate sex ratio variations among sexually polymorphic plant populations. In gynodioecious species, in which hermaphrodites and females coexist, the relative effect of these processes on the maintenance of sex polymorphism is still up for debate. The aim of this study was to document sex ratio and cytonuclear genetic variation at a very local scale in wind-pollinated gynodioecious Beta vulgaris ssp. maritima and attempt to elucidate which processes explained the observed variation. The study sites were characterized by geographically distinct patches of individuals and appeared to be dynamic entities, with recurrent establishment of distinct haplotypes through independent founder events. Along with substantial variation in sex ratio and unexpectedly low gene flow within study sites, our results showed a high genetic differentiation among a mosaic of genetically distinct demes, with isolation by distance or abrupt genetic discontinuities taking place within a few tens of metres. Overall, random founder events with restricted gene flow could be primary determinants of sex structure, by promoting the clumping of sex-determining genes. Such high levels of sex structure provide a landscape for differential selection acting on sex-determining genes, which could modify the conditions of maintenance of gynodioecy in structured populations.