Testing for apomixis in an obligate pollination mutualism
Keywords:Breynia, Epicephala, Phyllanthaceae, apomixis, delayed fruit production, dormant pollinated flowers
Plants with a small number of specific pollinators may be vulnerable to fluctuations in the availability of those pollinators, which could limit plant reproductive success and even result in extinction. Plants can develop mechanisms to mitigate this risk, such as apomixis. Reproductive assurance mechanisms have been largely ignored in obligate pollination mutualisms (OPMs), that are some of the most specialised of plant-pollinator interactions. Furthermore, although OPMs are often referred to as obligate, this is rarely tested. We performed a flower-bagging experiment to test if the unisexual flowers of Breynia oblongifolia could set fruit in the absence of its highly specialised seed-eating moth pollinators. Surprisingly, many bagged female flowers developed fruits, suggesting apomixis. We therefore conducted a second series of experiments in which we 1) added or excluded pollinators from caged plants; and 2) surveyed a wild population for apomictic reproduction using mother-offspring genotyping. In the absence of pollinators, no fruits developed. In addition, we detected no genetic evidence for apomixis when comparing between mothers and their offspring or between adults in a wild population. We explain the production of fruits in bagged branches by our discovery that B. oblongifolia can retain pollinated female flowers over the winter period. These flowers develop to fruits in the spring in the absence of male flowers or pollinators. Our study thus shows that B. oblongifolia is unable to produce fruit in the absence of its specialist moth pollinators. Thus, the highly specific interaction between plant and pollinators appears to be truly obligate.
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Copyright (c) 2021 Jonathan TD Finch, Sally A Power, Justin A Welbergen, James M Cook
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