Plant sexual systems and a review of the breeding system studies in the Caatinga, a Brazilian tropical dry forest

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Annals of Botany


• Backgrounds and Aims The reproductive biology of a community can provide answers to questions related to the maintenance of the intraspecific pollen flow and reproductive success of populations, sharing and competition for pollinators and also questions on conservation of natural habitats affected by fragmentation processes. This work presents, for the first time, data on the occurrence and frequency of plant sexual systems for Caatinga communities, and a review of the breeding system studies of Caatinga species. • Methods The sexual systems of 147 species from 34 families and 91 genera occurring in three Caatinga areas in north-eastern Brazil were analysed and compared with worldwide studies focusing on reproductive biology of different tropical communities. • Key Results The frequency of hermaphrodite species was 83·0 % (122 species), seven of these (or 4·8 % of the total) being heterostylous. Monoecy occurred in 9·5 % (14) of the species, and andromonoecy in 4·8 % (seven). Only 2·7 % (four) of the species were dioecious. A high percentage of hermaphrodite species was expected and has been reported for other tropical ecosystems. With respect to the breeding system studies with species of the Caatinga, the authors' data for 21 species and an additional 18 species studied by others (n = 39) revealed a high percentage (61·5 %) of obligatory self-incompatibility. Agamospermy was not recorded among the Caatinga studied species. • Conclusions The plant sexual systems in the Caatinga, despite the semi-arid climate, are similar to other tropical dry and wet forest communities, including those with high rainfall levels, except for the much lower percentage of dioecious species. The high frequency of self-incompatible species is similar to that reported for Savanna areas in Brazil, and also for dry (deciduous and semideciduous) and humid tropical forest communities.