Does inbreeding promote evolutionary reduction of flower size? Experimental evidence from Crepis tectorum (Asteraceae).
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• Premise of the study: Small, autogamous flowers have evolved repeatedly in the plant kingdom. While much attention has focused on the mechanisms that promote the shift to autogamy, there is still a paucity of information on the factors that underlie the reduction of flower size so prevalent in selfing lineages. In this study of Crepis tectorum, I examine the role of inbreeding, acting alone or together with selection, in promoting evolutionary reduction of flower size. • Methods: Experimental crosses were performed to produce progeny populations that differed in inbreeding and (or) selection history. Progenies were grown in two different environments and scored for flower size and other characters. • Key results: Inbreeding depressed flower and fruit size, but also caused changes in flowering time and the number of heads produced. Despite some inconsistencies in the results for the last progeny generation, the decline in flower size was persistent over generations, consistent across environments, and similar in magnitude to the effects of selection for small flower size and the floral reduction inferred to have taken place during the shift toward autogamy within the study species. The floral size reduction was largely independent of changes in overall vigor, and there was considerable adaptive potential in flower size (measured by sib analyses and parent-offspring comparisons) after inbreeding. • Conclusions: The results of this study indicate that inbreeding can promote evolutionary reduction of flower size and highlight the close, persistent association between flower and fruit size in the study species.