The mating system and microevolution

Genetics. 1975 Jun;79 Suppl:115-26.


Studies of natural and experimental plant populations have revealed that genotypic frequency distributions are highly structured in predominantly selfing species. This high degree of genetic organization is manifested in intense correlations in allelic state over loci and also in striking micro-geographical heterogeneity. Both aspects of this structure are facilitated by self-fertilization. Development of non-random associations of alleles within populations is facilitated because inbreeding reduces heterozygosity and thus also the randomizing effect of recombination. Spatial differentiation is facilitated because self-fertilization retards gene flow from population to population. The effect of organizing the entire populational genotype into a sort of giant supergene is to increase the frequency in the population of genotypes which confers high fitness and hence to increase adaptation to the local environment. However the recombinational potential remains substantial. As a result considerable free genetic variability remains in the population and it is available for long-term response to natural selection. Thus the organization of genetic variability within populations provides for high immediate fitness and also for flexibility to meet longer term evolutionary needs. At the same time selfing is a barrier to migration and it promotes the development and maintenance of different multilocus organizations in adjacent populations occupying unlike habitats. In total, therfore, a pattern of genetic differentiation develops in space which is an almost exact overlay of the environmental heterogeneity. The plant genetic and plant breeding literature contains extensive evidence that the mating system in plants can be modified simply and drastically by selection and that different populations within the same species often practice very different amounts of inbreeding. Considering the ease with which the mating system can be altered, and the benefits of adjusting genetic variability through regulation of the mating system, it is not surprising that a high proportion of flowering plants self-fertilize to some extent and that at least one-third of species have adopted predominant selfing as a strategy in ecogenetic adaptation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Biological
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Gene Frequency
  • Hordeum
  • Inbreeding
  • Models, Biological
  • Polymorphism, Genetic
  • Recombination, Genetic
  • Reproduction*
  • Selection, Genetic