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Proc Biol Sci. 2013 Sep 7;280(1766):20131336. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2013.1336. Print 2013 Sep 7.

Reproductive system of a mixed-mating plant responds to climate perturbation by increased selfing.

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Department of Integrative Biology, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada.


How plants respond to climatic perturbations, which are forecasted to increase in frequency and intensity, is difficult to predict because of the buffering effects of plasticity. Compensatory adjustments may maintain fecundity and recruitment, or delay negative changes that are inevitable but not immediately evident. We imposed a climate perturbation of warming and drought on a mixed-mating perennial violet, testing for adjustments in growth, reproduction and mortality. We observed several plasticity-based buffering responses, such that the climatic perturbation did not alter population structure. The most substantial reproductive adjustments, however, involved selfing, with a 45% increase in self-pollination by chasmogamous flowers, a 61% increase in the number of cleistogamous flowers that produced at least one fruit and an overall 15% increase in fruit production from selfed cleistogamous flowers. Reproductive assurance thus compensated for environmental change, including low pollinator visitation that occurred independently of our climate treatment. There was also no immediate evidence for inbreeding depression. Our work indicates that plants with vegetative and reproductive flexibility may not be immediately and negatively affected by a climatic perturbation. The stabilizing effects of these reproductive responses in the long term, however, may depend on the implications of significantly elevated levels of selfing.


climate change; grassland; plasticity; pollen limitation; pollinators; reproductive assurance

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