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Keywords:

  • Dioecy;
  • gender;
  • gynodioecy;
  • monoecy;
  • Sagittaria latifolia;
  • sex-allocation plasticity

Separate sexes can evolve under nuclear inheritance when unisexuals have more than twice the reproductive fitness of hermaphrodites through one sex function (e.g., when females have more than twice the seed fertility of hermaphrodites). Because separate sexes are thought to evolve most commonly via a gynodioecious intermediate (i.e., populations in which females and hermaphrodites cooccur), the conditions under which females can become established in populations of hermaphrodites are of considerable interest. It has been proposed that resource-poor conditions could promote the establishment of females if hermaphrodites are plastic in their sex allocation and allocate fewer resources to seed production under these conditions. If this occurs, the seed fertility of females could exceed the doubling required for the evolution of unisexuality under low-, but not high-resource conditions (the sex-differential plasticity hypothesis). We tested this hypothesis using replicate experimental arrays of the aquatic herb Sagittaria latifolia grown under two fertilizer treatments. The results supported the sex-differential plasticity hypothesis, with females having more than twice the seed fertility of hermaphrodites under low-, but not high-fertilizer conditions. Our findings are consistent with the idea that separate sexes are more likely to evolve under unfavorable conditions.