Fitness consequences of occasional outcrossing in a functionally asexual plant (Oenothera biennis)
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Maron, John L.; Johnson, Mark T.; Hastings, Amy P.; Agrawal, Anurag A.
Many clonal organisms occasionally outcross, but the long?term consequences of such infrequent events are often unknown. During five years, representing three to five plant generations, we followed 16 experimental field populations of the forb, Oenothera biennis, originally planted with the same 18 original genotypes. Oenothera biennis usually self fertilizes, which, due to its genetic system (permanent translocation heterozygosity), results in seeds that are clones of the maternal plant. However, rare outcrossing produces genetically novel offspring (but without recombination or increased heterozygosity). We sought to understand whether novel genotypes produced through natural outcrossing had greater fecundity or different multigenerational dynamics compared to our original genotypes. We further assessed whether any differences in fitness or abundances through time between original and novel genotypes were exaggerated in the presence vs. absence of insect herbivores. Over the course of the experiment, we genotyped >12,500 plants using microsatellite DNA markers to identify and track the frequency of specific genotypes and estimated fecundity on a subset (>3,000) of plants. The effective outcrossing rate was 7.3% in the first year and ultimately 50% of the plants were of outcrossed origin by the final year of the experiment. Lifetime fruit production per plant was on average 32% higher across all novel genotypes produced via outcrossing compared to the original genotypes, and this fecundity advantage was significantly enhanced in populations lacking herbivores. Among 43 novel genotypes that were abundant enough to phenotype with replication, plants produced nearly 30% more fruits than the average of their specific two parental genotypes, and marginally more fruits (8%) than their most fecund parent. Mean per capita fecundity of novel genotypes predicted their relative frequencies at the end of the experiment. Novel genotypes increased more dramatically in herbivore?present compared to suppressed populations (45% vs. 27% of all plants), countering the increased competition from dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) that resulted from herbivore suppression. Increased interspecific competition likely also lead to the lower realized fitness of novel vs. original genotypes in herbivore?suppressed populations. These results demonstrate that rare outcrossing and the generation of novel genotypes can create high?fecundity progeny, with the biotic environment influencing the dynamical outcome of such advantages.
This study was supported by a grant to A. A. Agrawal from NSF DEB-0950231. M. T. J. Johnson received funding from NSERC. J. L. Maron was supported by NSF DEB-1553518.
Ecological Society of America
Field experiment; Oenothera biennis; permanent translocation heterozygote; plant fitness; rare outcrossing; sexual reproduction
Maron, J. L., Johnson, M. T. J., Hastings, A. P., & Agrawal, A. A. (2018). Fitness consequences of occasional outcrossing in a functionally asexual plant (Oenothera biennis ). Ecology, 99(2), 464–473