Flowering sex ratios and costs of reproduction in gynodioecious Ocotea oblonga (Lauraceae)
In gynodioecious plant species, both female and hermaphrodite individuals produce fruit, but only hermaphrodites produce pollen. Such sex-specific differences in reproductive investment may contribute to dimorphism, but the magnitude and ecological effects are still unclear, especially for gynodioecious tropical trees where collecting flowers and determining the sex is complex. We documented flowering and fruiting over three years in a natural population of Ocotea oblonga (Lauraceae) trees in a tropical moist forest, Panama. We determined sex from freshly collected flowers, counted and measured fruit, and used long-term growth data for each individual. We confirmed that O. oblonga is gynodioecious. No tree switched sex or had flowers of both sexes. The population was hermaphrodite-biased. We found no ecological differences in reproductive investment (seed, fruit, or tree size, or growth rate) between the sexes, indicating that the sex differential in the cost of reproduction is much smaller in woody gynodioecious taxa than in dioecious taxa. Females produced more fruit than hermaphrodites, which may contribute to their persistence in the population. Accordingly, and contrary to most studies of temperate gynodioecious populations, our study of a tropical tree shows no differential cost of reproduction in a hermaphrodite-biased population. Consequently, other factors such as seed fertility or herbivory could drive the biased sex ratio in this population.