• Heterozygote advantage;
  • inbreeding;
  • Ipomoea hederacea;
  • leaf shape;
  • natural selection;
  • polymorphism

Leaf shape is one of the most variable plant traits. Previous work has provided much indirect evidence that leaf-shape variation is adaptive and that leaf shape influences thermoregulation, water balance, and resistance to natural enemies. Nevertheless, there is little direct evidence that leaf shape actually affects plant fitness. In this study, we first demonstrate that populations of the ivyleaf morning glory, Ipomoea hederacea, in North and South Carolina are frequently polymorphic at a locus that influences leaf shape. We then employ several field experiments to show that this polymorphism is subject to selection. In two of the experiments, at different sites, heterozygotes enjoyed a fitness advantage over both homozygotes. At a third site, in one year directional selection favored lobed leaves, whereas in a second year the pattern of fitnesses was consistent with similar directional selection or heterozygote superiority. Computer simulations of heterozygote advantage under the high selfing rates of I. hederacea indicate that balancing selection of the magnitude observed can by itself stabilize the polymorphism, although spatially and temporally variable selection may also contribute to its long-term maintenance.