Clarifying Baker's Law

Ann Bot. 2012 Feb;109(3):633-41. doi: 10.1093/aob/mcr127. Epub 2011 Jun 17.


Background: Baker's Law states that colonization by self-compatible organisms is more likely to be successful than colonization by self-incompatible organisms because of the ability for self-compatible organisms to produce offspring without pollination agents. This simple model has proved very successful in plant ecology and has been applied to various contexts, including colonizing or ruderal species, islands colonizers, invasive species or mating system variation across distribution ranges. Moreover, it is one of the only models in population biology linking two traits of major importance in ecology, namely dispersal and mating system. Although Baker's Law has stimulated a large number of empirical studies reporting the association of self-fertilization and colonizing ability in various contexts, the data have not established a general pattern for the association of traits.

Scope: In this paper, a critical position is adopted to discuss and clarify Baker's Law. From the literature referring to Baker's Law, an analysis made regarding how mating success is considered in such studies and discrepancies with population genetics theory of mating systems are highlighted. The data reporting the association of self-fertilization and colonizing ability are also briefly reviewed and the potential bias in interpretation is discussed. Lastly, a recent theoretical model analysing the link between colonizing ability and self-fertilization is considered.

Conclusions: Evolutionary predictions are actually more complex than Baker's intuitive arguments. It appears that Baker's Law encompasses a variety of ecological scenarios, which cannot be considered a priori as equivalent. Questioning what has been considered as self-evident for more than 50 years seems a reasonable objective to analyse in-depth dispersal and mating system traits.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biological Evolution
  • Ecology
  • Magnoliopsida / growth & development
  • Magnoliopsida / physiology
  • Models, Biological
  • Pollen / physiology
  • Pollination*
  • Seeds / growth & development
  • Seeds / physiology
  • Self-Fertilization*
  • Self-Incompatibility in Flowering Plants*