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Evolutionary Ecology

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Plant breeding, Plants -- Genetic markers, Plants -- Evolution, Plant ecology


The unique life form of plants promotes the accumulation of somatic mutations that can be passed to offspring in the next generation, because the same meristem cells responsible for vegetative growth also generate gametes for sexual reproduction. However, little is known about the consequences of somatic mutation accumulation for offspring fitness. We evaluate the fitness effects of somatic mutations in Mimulus guttatus by comparing progeny from self-pollinations made within the same flower (autogamy) to progeny from self-pollinations made between stems on the same plant (geitonogamy). The effects of somatic mutations are evident from this comparison, as autogamy leads to homozygosity of a proportion of somatic mutations, but progeny from geitonogamy remain heterozygous for mutations unique to each stem. In two different experiments, we find consistent fitness effects of somatic mutations from individual stems. Surprisingly, several progeny groups from autogamous crosses displayed increases in fitness compared to progeny from geitonogamy crosses, likely indicating that beneficial somatic mutations occurred in some stems. These results support the hypothesis that somatic mutations accumulate during vegetative growth, but they are filtered by different forms of selection that occur throughout development, resulting in the culling of expressed deleterious mutations and the retention of beneficial mutations.


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