Sexual selection is recognised as one of the most important evolutionary forces in animals, but sexual selection in plants has received wider attention only recently. Post-pollination events, such as pollen competition (analogous to sperm competition in animals) and female choice among pollen donors (analogous to cryptic female choice in animals) are potentially important mechanisms of sexual selection in plants. Although pollen competition has been studied quite extensively in the previous years, consideration of female choice in plants has been hampered by the difficulty of dissociating it from other mechanisms of non-random mating.
One way to determine whether female choice occurs in relation to other characters than relatedness, and to separate between different mechanisms of female choice, is to study experimentally the contributions of pollen competition and female choice on the outcome of pollinations, while controlling for the intrinsic differences in the competitive abilities of pollen from different donors.
The proposed project aims at i) examining the effects of herbivory on the competitive ability of pollen, both in vitro and in vivo, and ii) testing for the occurrence of female choice, and determining whether this potential mate choice is plastic and adaptive in relation to environmental conditions, and whether it can lead to sexual selection. The results of the project are likely to be of interest to a wide scientific audience in the fields of plant-herbivore interactions and sexual selection.
The training period of the researcher at the host university is indispensable for the successful execution of the project, both in terms of practical skills needed and theoretical understanding of the study subject.
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