Geographic structure of pollinator communities, reproductive assurance, and the evolution of self-pollination

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Reproductive assurance is often invoked as an explanation for the evolution of self-fertilization in plants. However, key aspects of this hypothesis have received little empirical support. In this study, I use geographic surveys of pollinator communities along with functional studies of floral trait variation to examine the role of pollination ecology in mating system differentiation among populations and subspecies of the annual plant Clarkia xantiana. A greenhouse experiment involving 30 populations from throughout the species' range indicated that variation in two floral traits, herkogamy and protandry, was closely related to levels of autofertility and that trait variation was partitioned mainly among populations. Emasculation experiments in the field showed that autonomous selfing confers reproductive assurance by elevating fruit and seed production. Surveys of pollinator communities across the geographic range of the species revealed that bee pollinator abundance and community composition differed dramatically between populations of the outcrossing subspecies xantiana and the selfing subspecies parviflora despite their close proximity. Specialist bee pollinators of Clarkia were absent from selfing populations, but they were the most frequent visitors to outcrossing populations. Moreover, within the outcrossing subspecies xantiana, there was a close correspondence between specialist abundance and population differentiation in herkogamy, a key mating system trait. This spatial covariation arose, in part, because geographically peripheral populations had reduced herkogamy, higher autofertility, and lower pollinator abundance compared to central populations of xantiana. Finally, I detected strong spatial structure to bee communities both across the range of the species and within the outcrossing subspecies. In both cases, spatial structure was stronger for specialist bees compared to generalist bees, and pollinator communities varied in parallel with population variation in herkogamy. These results provide evidence that mating system differentiation parallels spatial variation in pollinator abundance and community composition at both broad and more restricted spatial scales, consistent with the hypothesis that pollinator abundance and reproductive assurance are important drivers of plant mating system evolution.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1510-1522
Number of pages13
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2006


  • Autonomous self-fertilization
  • Central and peripheral populations
  • Clarkia xantiana
  • Floral evolution
  • Herkogamy
  • Mating system
  • Protandry
  • Reproductive assurance
  • Solitary bees
  • Spatial variation
  • Specialist pollinators


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