‘Inconstant males’ and the maintenance of labile sex expression in subdioecious plants


  • Bodil K. Ehlers,

    1. Department of Ecology and Genetics, University of Aarhus, Ny Munkegade, Build. 1540, DK-8000 Århus C, Denmark;
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  • Thomas Bataillon

    1. INRA-UMR 1097 ‘Diversité et Génomes des Plantes Cultivés’, Domaine de Melgueil, 34130 Maugio, France;
    2. BiRC, University of Aarhus, Høegh-Guldbergs gade, Build. 1090, DK-8000 Århus C, Denmark
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Author for correspondence: B. K. Ehlers Tel: +45 89423127 Fax: +45 89422722 Email: bodil.ehlers@biology.au.dk


  • • Here, we evaluate the role of pollen limitation and selfing in the maintenance of labile sex expression in subdioecious plant species.
  • • We used a literature survey to explore which factors correlated with a significant occurrence of hermaphrodites in dioecious species. We developed models to explore the selective maintenance of labile sex expression. The models had similar ecological assumptions but differed in the genetic basis of sex lability.
  • • We found that a significant frequency of hermaphrodites was associated with animal pollination, and that hermaphrodites were ‘inconstant’ males with perfect flowers, suggesting evolution through the gynodioecious pathway. Models showed that a modifier converting pure males into inconstant males could be maintained under a wide range of reduction in both male and female fitness. Pollen limitation and self-fertilization facilitated invasion of the modifier. Depending on the genetics of sex determination, we found pure dioecy, stable subdioecy (trioecy), and situations where inconstant males coexisted with either pure females or pure males. Under selfing and pollen limitation, certain conditions selected for inconstant males which will drive populations to extinction.
  • • We discuss our results in relation to the evolution towards, and the breakdown of, dioecy, and the ecological and evolutionary implications of labile sex expression.