Whitehead, M.R., Lanfear, R., Mitchell, R.J. and Karron, J.D., 2018. Plant mating systems often vary widely among populations. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, 6: 38
Most flowering plants are hermaphroditic, yet the proportion of seeds fertilized by self and outcross pollen varies widely among species, ranging from predominant self-fertilization to exclusive outcrossing. A population's rate of outcrossing has important evolutionary outcomes as it influences genetic structure, effective population size, and offspring fitness. Because most mating system studies have quantified outcrossing rates for just one or two populations, past reviews of mating system diversity have not been able to characterize the extent of variation among populations. Here we present a new database of more than 30 years of mating system studies that report outcrossing rates for three or more populations per species. This survey, which includes 741 populations from 105 species, illustrates substantial and prevalent among-population variation in the mating system. Intermediate outcrossing rates (mixed mating) are common; 63% of species had at least one mixed mating population. The variance among populations and within species was not significantly correlated with pollination mode or phylogeny. Our review underscores the need for studies exploring variation in the relative influence of ecological and genetic factors on the mating system, and how this varies among populations. We conclude that estimates of outcrossing rates from single populations are often highly unreliable indicators of the mating system of an entire species.