J Syst Evol ›› 2019, Vol. 57 ›› Issue (4): 371-381.DOI: 10.1111/jse.12528

• Research Articles • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Do motile spermatozoids limit the effectiveness of sexual reproduction in bryophytes? Not in the liverwort Marchantia polymorpha

Silvia Pressel, and Jeffrey G. Duckett*   

  1. Department of Life Sciences, The Natural History Museum, London SW7 5BD, UK
  • Received:2019-04-19 Accepted:2019-06-25 Online:2019-08-08 Published:2019-07-01

Abstract: To test the premise that fertilization distances in bryophytes are limited by spermatozoid motility, we measured the distances between over 80 000 male and female thalli of Marchantia polymorpha on heathland over 2 successive years after a major fire and recorded the incidence of sporophytes. The first comparative data on spermatozoid numbers per antheridium across bryophytes and pteridophytes were calculated from antheridial sizes and spermatid diameters and cross‐checked with the likely numbers produced by successive antheridial mitoses. Individual antheridia of Marchantia produce over 200 000 spermatozoids. Extrapolating from individual antheridia to the numbers of mature antheridia per antheridiophore and then to individual male plants, we calculated that a single flooding event on a male thallus with 10–12 antheridiophores will result in the release of over 50 million spermatozoids. Assuming radial dispersal in surface water films by lipids released from the dehiscing antheridia, spermatozoids can reach distances exceeding 20 m from the parent plants, in line with our finding of 100% fertilization in female plants of Marchantia up to 19 m from the nearest males, far beyond published fertilization distances in dioicous bryophytes. We attribute this to (i) much greater spermatozoid production and numbers in Marchantia than in other bryophytes and (ii) highly effective sperm transport both within the antheridiophores and archegoniophores via their overlapping scales and grooves in the stalks and between male and female thalli via surface water films. These features, coupled with the massive production of small spores, explain the success of Marchantia as the primary colonist of open habitats.

Key words: fertility, fertilization rates, phenology, pyrophile, spermatozoid numbers, surface water films