• Aquilegia canadensis;
  • autogamy;
  • heritability;
  • herkogamy;
  • inbreeding depression;
  • outcrossing;
  • self-fertilization

The mating system of flowering plant populations evolves through selection on genetically based phenotypic variation in floral traits. The physical separation of anthers and stigmas within flowers (herkogamy) is expected to be an important target of selection to limit self-fertilization. We investigated the pattern of phenotypic and genetic variation in herkogamy and its effect of self-fertilization in a broad sample of natural populations of Aquilegia canadensis, a species that is highly selfing despite strong inbreeding depression. Within natural populations, plants exhibit substantial phenotypic variation in herkogamy caused primarily by variation in pistil length rather than stamen length. Compared to other floral traits, herkogamy is much more variable and a greater proportion of variation is distributed among rather than within individuals. We tested for a genetic component of this marked phenotypic variation by growing naturally pollinated seed families from five populations in a common greenhouse environment. For three populations, we detected a significant variation in herkogamy among families, and a positive regression between parental herkogamy measured in the field and progeny herkogamy in the greenhouse, suggesting that there is often genetic variation in herkogamy within natural populations. We estimated levels of self-fertilization for groups of flowers that differed in herkogamy and show that, as expected, herkogamy was associated with reduced selfing in 13 of 19 populations. In six of these populations, we performed floral emasculations to show that this decrease in selfing is due to decreased autogamy (within-flower selfing), the mode of selfing that herkogamy should most directly influence. Taken together, these results suggest that increased herkogamy should be selected to reduce the production of low-quality selfed seed. The combination of high selfing and substantial genetic variation for herkogamy in A. canadensis is enigmatic, and reconciling this observation will require a more integrated analysis of how herkogamy influences not only self-fertilization, but also patterns of outcross pollen import and export.