Hybridization and polyploidization are powerful evolutionary factors that are associated with manifold developmental changes in plants such as irregular progression of meiosis and sporogenesis. The emergence of apomixis, which is asexual reproduction via seeds, is supposed to be connected to these factors and was often regarded as an escape from hybrid sterility. However, the functional trigger of apomixis is still unclear. Recently formed di- and polyploid Ranunculus hybrids, as well as their parental species were analysed for their modes of mega- and microsporogenesis by microscopy. Chromosomal configurations during male meiosis were screened for abnormalities. Meiotic and developmental abnormalities were documented qualitatively and collected quantitatively for statistical evaluations.
Allopolyploids showed significantly higher frequencies of erroneous microsporogenesis than homoploid hybrid plants. Among diploids, F 2 hybrids had significantly more disturbed meiosis than F 1 hybrids and parental plants. Chromosomal aberrations included laggard chromosomes, chromatin bridges and disoriented spindle activities. Failure of megasporogenesis appeared to be much more frequent in than of microsporogenesis is correlated to apomixis onset.
Results suggest diverging selective pressures on female and male sporogenesis, with only minor effects of hybridity on microsporogenesis, but fatal effects on the course of megasporogenesis. Hence, pollen development continues without major alterations, while selection will favour apomixis as alternative to the female meiotic pathway. Relation of investigated errors of megasporogenesis with the observed occurrence of apospory in Ranunculus hybrids identifies disturbed female meiosis as potential elicitor of apomixis in order to rescue these plants from hybrid sterility. Male meiotic disturbance appears to be stronger in neopolyploids than in homoploid hybrids, while disturbances of megasporogenesis were not ploidy-dependent.