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Frequency and maintenance of unreduced gametes in natural plant populations: associations with reproductive mode, life history and genome size

Kreiner, Julia M., Kron, Paul, Husband, Brian C.
The new phytologist 2017 v.214 no.2 pp. 879-889
Brassicaceae, chromosome number, flow cytometry, gametogenesis, genome, germ cells, life history, males, meiosis, outcrossing, phylogeny, polyploidy, reproductive system, selfing
Fertilization involving unreduced (2n) gametes is considered the dominant mechanism of polyploid formation in angiosperms; however, our knowledge of the prevalence of and evolutionary mechanisms maintaining 2n gametes in natural populations is limited. We hypothesize that 2n gametes are deleterious consequences of meiotic errors maintained by mutation–selection balance and should increase in species with relaxed opportunities for selection on sexual processes (asexuality), reduced efficacy of selection (asexuality, selfing) and increased genome instability (high chromosome number). We used flow cytometry to estimate male 2n gamete production in 60 populations from 24 species of Brassicaceae. We quantified variation in 2n gamete production within and among species, and examined associations with life history, reproductive mode, genome size and chromosomal number while accounting for phylogeny. Most individuals produced < 2% 2n male gametes, whereas a small number had > 5% (up to 85%) production. Variation in 2n gamete production was significant among species and related to reproductive system; asexual species produced significantly more 2n gametes than mixed‐mating and outcrossing species. Our results, unique in their multi‐species perspective, are consistent with 2n gametes being deleterious but maintained when opportunities for selection are limited. Rare individuals with elevated 2n gamete production may be key contributors to polyploid formation.