The enigma of sex allocation in Selaginella

Kurt B. Petersen, Martin Burd

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Background and Aims: The division of resource investment between male and female functions is poorly known for land plants other than angiosperms. The ancient lycophyte genus Selaginella is similar in some ways to angiosperms (in heterospory and in having sex allocation occur in the sporophyte generation, for example) but lacks the post-fertilization maternal investments that angiosperms make via fruit and seed tissues. One would therefore expect Selaginella to have sex allocation values less female-biased than in flowering plants and closer to the theoretical prediction of equal investment in male and female functions. Nothing is currently known of sex allocation in the genus, so even the simplest predictions have not been tested.

Methods: Volumetric measurements of microsporangial and megasporangial investment were made in 14 species of Selaginella from four continents. In five of these species the length of the main above-ground axis of each plant was measured to determine whether sex allocation is related to plant size.

Key Results: Of the 14 species, 13 showed male-biased allocations, often extreme, in population means and among the great majority of individual plants. There was some indication from the five species with axis length measurements that relative male allocation might be related to the release height of spores, but this evidence is preliminary.

Conclusions: Sex allocation in Selaginella provides a phylogenetic touchstone showing how the innovations of fruit and seed investment in the angiosperm life cycle lead to typically female-biased allocations in that lineage. Moreover, the male bias we found in Selaginella requires an evolutionary explanation. The bias was often greater than what would occur from the mere absence of seed and fruit investments, and thus poses a challenge to sex allocation theory. It is possible that differences between microspores and megaspores in their dispersal ecology create selective effects that favour male-biased sexual allocation. This hypothesis remains tentative.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)377-383
Number of pages7
JournalAnnals of Botany
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 12 Feb 2018


  • Heterospory
  • lycophyte
  • male bias
  • Selaginella
  • sex allocation
  • wind dispersal

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