Cover Image


View/Hide Left Panel

asexual reproduction also may allow reproduction when circumstances reduce opportunities for a union of gametes produced by different individuals, a phenomenon known as reproductive assurance. Both the cost of outcrossing and reproductive assurance lead to an over-representation of selfers and asexuals in newly formed progeny, and unless sexual outcrossers are more likely to survive and reproduce, they eventually will be displaced from populations in which a selfing or asexual variant arises.

The world's quarter of a million vascular plant species (Heywood and Watson, 1995) display an incredible diversity of life histories, growth forms, and physiologies, but the diversity of their reproductive systems is at least as great. In some ferns, individual haploid gametophytes produce both eggs and sperm. In others, individual gametophytes produce only one or the other. In seed plants, pollen- and ovule-producing structures may be borne together within a single flower, borne separately in different structures on the same plant, or borne on entirely different plants. In both groups of plants, the pattern in which reproductive structures are borne influences the frequency with which gametes from unrelated individuals unite in zygotes, and it is a predominant influence on the amount and distribution of genetic diversity found in a species.

Evolutionary explanations for the diversity in mating systems once focused on differences in population-level properties associated with the different reproductive modes. Selfing or asexual plants were, for example, presumed both to be more highly adapted to immediate circumstances and to be less able to adapt to a changing environment than sexual outcrossers, and these differences were used to explain the association of different reproductive modes with particular life histories, habitats, or both (Mather, 1943; Stebbins, 1957). We now realize that to explain the origin and the maintenance of particular reproductive modes within species we must relate differences in reproductive mode to differences that are expressed among individuals within populations (Lloyd, 1965). Nonetheless, differences in rates of speciation and extinction may be related to differences in reproductive modes. As a result, understanding broad-scale phylogenetic trends in the evolution of plant reproductive systems will require us to learn more about the patterns and causes of those relationships.


In higher animals, meiosis produces eggs and sperm directly. The sexual life cycle of vascular plants is more complex. Multicellular haploid and diploid generations alternate. Diploid sporophytes produce haploid

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement