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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Plant traits correlated with generation time directly affect inbreeding depression and mating system and indirectly genetic structure

Jérôme Duminil12*, Olivier J Hardy1 and Rémy J Petit34

Author Affiliations

1 Université Libre de Bruxelles, Faculté des Sciences, Service Evolution Biologique et Ecologie, CP 160/12, 50 Av. F. Roosevelt, 1050 Bruxelles, Belgium

2 Faculté Universitaire des Sciences Agronomiques de Gembloux, Laboratoire d'écologie, 2 Passage des Déportés 5030 Gembloux, Belgium

3 INRA, UMR 1202 Biodiversity, Genes and Communities, F-33610 Cestas, France

4 Université de Bordeaux, UMR 1202 Biodiversity, Genes and Communities, F-33610 Cestas, France

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2009, 9:177  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-9-177

Published: 27 July 2009



Understanding the mechanisms that control species genetic structure has always been a major objective in evolutionary studies. The association between genetic structure and species attributes has received special attention. As species attributes are highly taxonomically constrained, phylogenetically controlled methods are necessary to infer causal relationships. In plants, a previous study controlling for phylogenetic signal has demonstrated that Wright's FST, a measure of genetic differentiation among populations, is best predicted by the mating system (outcrossing, mixed-mating or selfing) and that plant traits such as perenniality and growth form have only an indirect influence on FST via their association with the mating system. The objective of this study is to further outline the determinants of plant genetic structure by distinguishing the effects of mating system on gene flow and on genetic drift. The association of biparental inbreeding and inbreeding depression with population genetic structure, mating system and plant traits are also investigated.


Based on data from 263 plant species for which estimates of FST, inbreeding (FIS) and outcrossing rate (tm) are available, we confirm that mating system is the main influencing factor of FST. Moreover, using an alternative measure of FST unaffected by the impact of inbreeding on effective population size, we show that the influence of tm on FST is due to its impact on gene flow (reduced pollen flow under selfing) and on genetic drift (higher drift under selfing due to inbreeding). Plant traits, in particular perenniality, influence FST mostly via their effect on the mating system but also via their association with the magnitude of selection against inbred individuals: the mean inbreeding depression increases from short-lived herbaceous to long-lived herbaceous and then to woody species. The influence of perenniality on mating system does not seem to be related to differences in stature, as proposed earlier, but rather to differences in generation time.


Plant traits correlated with generation time affect both inbreeding depression and mating system. These in turn modify genetic drift and gene flow and ultimately genetic structure.