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Lower selfing rate at higher altitudes in the alpine plant Eritrichium nanum (Boraginaceae)

Wirth, Lea Rahel, Graf, René, Gugerli, Felix, Landergott, Urs, Holderegger, Rolf
American journal of botany 2010 v.97 no.5 pp. 899-901
Boraginaceae, alpine plants, altitude, genetic background, genetic techniques and protocols, growing season, mating systems, microsatellite repeats, pollinators, progeny, selfing, weather, Alps region
A general hypothesis on mating patterns in alpine plants states that self-fertilization should increase with increasing altitude as a result of pollinator limitation at higher altitudes. However, realized selfing rates under natural conditions, as based on genetic progeny analysis, have not yet been determined for any alpine species across altitude. We therefore assessed the realized selfing rates in about 100 open-pollinated families of the high-alpine cushion plant Eritrichium nanum, sampled along an altitudinal gradient in the Swiss Alps, by using progeny analysis based on six microsatellites. In marked contrast to the general hypothesis, realized selfing rates in E. nanum significantly decreased with increasing altitude, and only progenies from low altitudes were predominantly selfed. However, the higher selfing rates of individuals at lower altitudes could have been caused by unfavorable weather conditions during early growing season when low-elevation plants flowered. In summary, our results on selfing rates in an alpine plant across altitude as well as the results of other studies using experimental hand-pollinations and/or population genetic methods generally do not support the expectation of higher selfing rates at higher altitudes. We therefore ask for further critical examination of realized mating systems in alpine plants.