Anther Rubbing, a New Mechanism That Actively Promotes Selfing in Plants
Self-fertilization has recurrently evolved in plants, involving different strategies and traits and often loss of attractive functions, collectively known as the selfing syndrome. However, few traits that actively promote self-fertilization have been described. Here we describe a novel mechanism promoting self-fertilization in the Brassicaceae species Erysimum incanum. This mechanism, which we called “anther rubbing,” consists of autonomous, repeated, and coordinated movements of the stamens over the stigma during flower opening. We have documented anther rubbing by time-lapse videos and experimentally show that it causes self-pollen deposition on stigmas and is sufficient to achieve maximal reproductive output in E. incanum. We predict that these movements should occur in species with limited inbreeding depression, and indeed we find that inbreeding depression in seed production is negligible in this species. While many studies have documented complex floral traits that promote outcrossing, the occurrence of anther rubbing demonstrates that plants can evolve elaborate and underappreciated adaptations to promote self-fertilization.