In the genus Fucus , the character dioecy/hermaphroditism has undergone multiple state changes and hybridization is possible between taxa with contrasting mating systems, e.g. between the dioecious Fucus vesiculosus and the hermaphrodite F. spiralis . In the context of mating system evolution, we evaluated the potential consequences of hybridization by studying the variation in sexual phenotype and prezygotic fertility. Firstly, as a result of hybridization between the two sexual systems, gender variation may arise depending on the relative importance of genes with large versus small phenotypic effects. We thus qualitatively examined the extent of gender variation within and among individual hybrids in comparison with both parental species. Secondly, if hybridization breaks up co-adapted gene complexes, hybrid fertility may be reduced in comparison with both parental species. Therefore, we also quantified male and female prezygotic fertility in parental species and their hybrids in order to test for reduction in hybrid fitness. A total of 89 sexually mature individuals (20 F. spiralis , 40 F. vesiculosus , 10 hermaphrodite hybrids and 19 dioecious hybrids) were sampled in two geographically distant regions (France and Portugal) and six conceptacles per individual were observed. Within-individual variation was very restricted qualitatively – only one hybrid carried a conceptacle with a different sexual phenotype from the five others – as well as quantitatively. This suggests a simple genetic system for sex determination involving a few genes with major effects. In addition, analyses showed no significant decrease in hybrid fertility compared with parental species. Moreover, hybrids exhibited all sexual phenotypes, suggesting several generations of hybridization and backcrossing and, therefore, that hybrids are reproductively successful. Finally, the occurrence of sterile paraphyses in female and hermaphrodite individuals was interpreted as a relic of male function and suggests that, as in higher plants, evolution from hermaphroditism to dioecy may be the most parsimonious pathway.
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