Background and Aims
Reproductive assurance through autonomous selfing is thought to be one of the main advantages of self-fertilization in plants. Floral mechanisms that ensure autonomous seed set are therefore more likely to occur in species that grow in habitats where pollination is scarce and/or unpredictable.
Emasculation and pollen supplementation experiments were conducted under laboratory conditions to investigate the capacity for, and timing of autonomous selfing in three closely related Centaurium species (Centaurium erythraea, C. littorale and C. pulchellum). In addition, observations of flower visitors were combined with emasculation and pollen addition experiments in natural populations to investigate the degree of pollinator limitation and pollination failure and to assess the extent to which autonomous selfing conferred reproductive assurance.
All three species were capable of autonomous selfing, although this capacity differed significantly between species (index of autonomous selfing 0·55 ± 0·06, 0·68 ± 0·09 and 0·92 ± 0·03 for C. erythraea, C. littorale and C. pulchellum, respectively). The efficiency and timing of autogamous selfing was primarily associated with differences in the degree of herkogamy and dichogamy. The number of floral visitors showed significant interspecific differences, with 1·6 ± 0·6, 5·4 ± 0·6 and 14·5 ± 2·1 floral visitors within a 2 × 2 m2 plot per 20-min observation period, for C. pulchellum, C. littorale and C. erythraea, respectively. Concomitantly, pollinator failure was highest in C. pulchellum and lowest in C. erythraea. Nonetheless, all three study species showed very low levels of pollen limitation (index of pollen limitation 0·14 ± 0·03, 0·11 ± 0·03 and 0·09 ± 0·02 for C. erythraea, C. littorale and C. pulchellum, respectively), indicating that autonomous selfing may guarantee reproductive assurance.
These findings show that limited availability of pollinators may select for floral traits and plant mating strategies that lead to a system of reproductive assurance via autonomous selfing.