Intrapopulation Sex Ratio Variation in the Salt Grass Distichlis spicata

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American Naturalist

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Eppley, Sarah M.; Stanton, Maureen L.; Grosberg, Richard K.
Sexual dimorphism (Plants); Salt marsh plants; Grasses -- Reproduction; Plant Biology; Plant Breeding and Genetics
article description
In many dioecious plant populations, males and females appear to be spatially segregated, a pattern that is difficult to explain given its potentially high costs. However, in asexually propagating species, spatial segregation of the sexes may be indistinguishable from superficially similar patterns generated by random establishment of a few genets followed by extensive clonal spread and by gender-specific differences in rates of clonal spread. In populations where a significant fraction of individuals are not flowering and gender cannot be assigned to this fraction, apparent spatial segregation of the sexes may be due to differential flowering between the sexes. We confirm reports that flowering ramets of the clonal, perennial grass Distichlis spicata are spatially segregated by sex. We extend these studies in two fundamental ways and demonstrate that this species exhibits true spatial segregation of the sexes. First, using RAPD markers, we estimated that at least 50% of ramets in patches with biased sex ratios represent distinct genotypes. Second, we identified a RAPD marker linked to female phenotype (eliminating the possibility that gender is environmentally determined) and used it to show that the majority of patches exhibit significantly biased sex ratios for both ramets and genets, regardless of flowering status.