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Am J Bot. 1998 Jul;85(7):919.

Does self-pollination provide reproductive assurance in Aquilegia canadensis (Ranunculaceae)?


The ability to produce seeds when pollinators or potential mates are scarce is thought to be one of the main advantages of self-fertilization in flowering plants. However, whether autonomous selfing increases seed set in natural populations has seldom been tested, and even fewer studies have evaluated the advantage of selfing across a gradient of pollen availability. This study examines the fertility consequences of autonomous selfing in Aquilegia canadensis (Ranunculaceae), a short-lived, spring-flowering perennial typically found in small, patchy populations on rock outcrops. We used a pollinator exclusion experiment to confirm reports that A. canadensis has a well-developed capacity for autonomous selfing resulting from incomplete protogyny and close proximity of stigmas and anthers during dehiscence. Flowers excluded from pollinators set 87% as many seeds per carpel (X +/- 1 SE = 7.1 +/- 1.4 seeds) as hand-pollinated flowers (8.1 +/- 1.3 seeds), and seed production in unpollinated flowers correlated negatively with the distance between stigmas and anthers (r = -0.46). Autonomous selfing could be potentially valuable in providing reproductive assurance because only 2.7 +/- 0.5 pollen grains were deposited on each stigma before anther dehiscence, compared to 134.1 +/- 17.9 pollen grains by the end of anther dehiscence. However, prevention of autonomous selfing by anther removal before dehiscence did not decrease seed set, even for plants at low plant densities where outcross pollen may have been in short supply. Emasculated flowers set as many seeds per carpel (9.3 +/- 0.9) as intact flowers (8.4 +/- 1.1), indicating that sufficient cross pollen is deposited for full seed set. These results do not support the hypothesis that autonomous selfing by A. canadensis has been selected because it provides reproductive assurance.

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