Sexual dimorphism in resource acquisition and deployment: both size and timing matter

Ann Bot. 2011 Jan;107(1):119-26. doi: 10.1093/aob/mcq209. Epub 2010 Oct 27.


Background and aims: The males and females of many dioecious plant species differ from one another in important life-history traits, such as their size. If male and female reproductive functions draw on different resources, for example, one should expect males and females to display different allocation strategies as they grow. Importantly, these strategies may differ not only between the two sexes, but also between plants of different age and therefore size. Results are presented from an experiment that asks whether males and females of Mercurialis annua, an annual plant with indeterminate growth, differ over time in their allocation of two potentially limiting resources (carbon and nitrogen) to vegetative (below- and above-ground) and reproductive tissues.

Methods: Comparisons were made of the temporal patterns of biomass allocation to shoots, roots and reproduction and the nitrogen content in the leaves between the sexes of M. annua by harvesting plants of each sex after growth over different periods of time.

Key results and conclusions: Males and females differed in their temporal patterns of allocation. Males allocated more to reproduction than females at early stages, but this trend was reversed at later stages. Importantly, males allocated proportionally more of their biomass towards roots at later stages, but the roots of females were larger in absolute terms. The study points to the important role played by both the timing of resource deployment and the relative versus absolute sizes of the sinks and sources in sexual dimorphism of an annual plant.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Carbon / metabolism
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Euphorbiaceae / growth & development
  • Euphorbiaceae / physiology*
  • Nitrogen / metabolism
  • Plant Roots / metabolism*
  • Plant Shoots / metabolism*
  • Reproduction
  • Time Factors


  • Carbon
  • Nitrogen