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Reproductive biology of the andromonoecious Cucumis melo subsp. agrestis (Cucurbitaceae)

Kouonon, Leonie C., Jacquemart, Anne-Laure, Zoro Bi, Arsene I., Bertin, Pierre, Baudoin, Jean-Pierre, Dje, Yao
Annals of botany 2009 v.104 no.6 pp. 1129-1139
Cucumis melo subsp. agrestis, Hymenoptera, apomixis, crop yield, cross pollination, cultural values, flight, fluorescent dyes, fruit set, fruits, growing season, inbreeding depression, insects, male flowers, mating systems, pollen, pollen tubes, pollinators, seedlings, seeds, self-pollination, selfing, soups, thickeners
BACKGROUND AND AIMS: Cucumis melo subsp. agrestis (Cucurbitaceae) is cultivated in many African regions for its edible kernels used as a soup thickener. The plant, an annual, andromonoecious, trailing-vine species, is of high social, cultural and economic value for local communities. In order to improve the yield of this crop, the first step and our aim were to elucidate its breeding system. METHODS: Eight experimental pollination treatments were performed during three growing seasons to assess spontaneous selfing, self-compatibility and effects of pollen source (hermaphroditic vs. male flowers). Pollination success was determined by pollen tube growth and reproductive success was assessed by fruit, seed and seedling numbers and characteristics. The pollinator guild was surveyed and the pollination distance determined both by direct observations and by indirect fluorescent dye dispersal. KEY RESULTS: The species is probably pollinated by several Hymenoptera, principally by Hypotrigona para. Pollinator flight distances varied from 25 to 69 cm. No evidence for apomixis or spontaneous self-pollination in the absence of insect visitors was found. The self-fertility index (SFI = 0) indicated a total dependence on pollinators for reproductive success. The effects of hand pollination on fruit set, seed number and seedling fitness differed among years. Pollen tube growth and reproductive success did not differ between self- and cross-pollinations. Accordingly, a high self-compatibility index for the fruit set (SCI = 1·00) and the seed number (SCI = 0·98) and a low inbreeding depression at all developmental stages (cumulative δ = 0·126) suggest a high selfing ability. Finally, pollen origin had no effect on fruit and seed sets. CONCLUSIONS: This andromonoecious species has the potential for a mixed mating system with high dependence on insect-mediated pollination. The selfing rate through geitonogamy should be important.