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Open Access Research article

Secondary reproduction in the herbaceous monocarp Lobelia inflata: time-constrained primary reproduction does not result in increased deferral of reproductive effort

Patrick William Hughes* and Andrew M Simons

Author Affiliations

Department of Biology, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada K1S 5B6

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BMC Ecology 2014, 14:15  doi:10.1186/1472-6785-14-15

Published: 20 May 2014



Although semelparity is a life history characterized by a single reproductive episode within a single reproductive season, some semelparous organisms facultatively express a second bout of reproduction, either in a subsequent season (“facultative iteroparity”) or later within the same season as the primary bout (“secondary reproduction”). Secondary reproduction has been explained as the adaptive deferral of reproductive potential under circumstances in which some fraction of reproductive success would otherwise have been lost (due, for example, to inopportune timing). This deferral hypothesis predicts a positive relationship between constraints on primary reproduction and expression of secondary reproduction. The herbaceous monocarp Lobelia inflata has been observed occasionally to express a secondary reproductive episode in the field. However, it is unknown whether secondary reproduction is an example of adaptive reproductive deferral, or is more parsimoniously explained as the vestigial expression of iteroparity after a recent transition to semelparity. Here, we experimentally manipulate effective season length in each of three years to test whether secondary reproduction is a form of adaptive plasticity consistent with the deferral hypothesis.


Our results were found to be inconsistent with the adaptive deferral explanation: first, plants whose primary reproduction was time-constrained exhibited decreased (not increased) allocation to subsequent secondary reproduction, a result that was consistent across all three years; second, secondary offspring—although viable in the laboratory—would not have the opportunity for expression under field conditions, and would thus not contribute to reproductive success.


Although alternative adaptive explanations for secondary reproduction cannot be precluded, we conclude that the characteristics of secondary reproduction found in L. inflata are consistent with predictions of incomplete or transitional evolution to annual semelparity.

Life-history evolution; Semelparity; Iteroparity; Facultative iteroparity; Lobelia inflata