Self-compatibility is over-represented on islands

Dena L. Grossenbacher, Yaniv Brandvain, Josh R. Auld, Martin Burd, Pierre Olivier Cheptou, Jeffrey K. Conner, Alannie G. Grant, Stephen M. Hovick, John R. Pannell, Anton Pauw, Theodora Petanidou, April M. Randle, Rafael Rubio de Casas, Jana Vamosi, Alice Winn, Boris Igic, Jeremiah W. Busch, Susan Kalisz, Emma E. Goldberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Scopus citations


Because establishing a new population often depends critically on finding mates, individuals capable of uniparental reproduction may have a colonization advantage. Accordingly, there should be an over-representation of colonizing species in which individuals can reproduce without a mate, particularly in isolated locales such as oceanic islands. Despite the intuitive appeal of this colonization filter hypothesis (known as Baker's law), more than six decades of analyses have yielded mixed findings. We assembled a dataset of island and mainland plant breeding systems, focusing on the presence or absence of self-incompatibility. Because this trait enforces outcrossing and is unlikely to re-evolve on short timescales if it is lost, breeding system is especially likely to reflect the colonization filter. We found significantly more self-compatible species on islands than mainlands across a sample of > 1500 species from three widely distributed flowering plant families (Asteraceae, Brassicaceae and Solanaceae). Overall, 66% of island species were self-compatible, compared with 41% of mainland species. Our results demonstrate that the presence or absence of self-incompatibility has strong explanatory power for plant geographical patterns. Island floras around the world thus reflect the role of a key reproductive trait in filtering potential colonizing species in these three plant families.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)469-478
Number of pages10
JournalNew Phytologist
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This paper was produced by a working group titled ?Linking self-fertilization, dispersal, and distribution traits of species: is Baker's law an exception to the rule?? and funded by NSF (EF-0905606). This group convened at the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent) and was led by S.K., A.M.R. and P-O.C. D.L.G. was supported by NSF (DEB-1119000). We thank Christina Flann, Eckhard von Raab-Straube and John H. Wiersema for providing geographical data.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 The Authors. New Phytologist © 2017 New Phytologist Trust


  • Baker's law
  • biogeography
  • ecological filtering
  • island
  • mainland
  • self-incompatibility


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