Monoicous is a botanical term used to describe plants which bear both sperm and eggs on the same gametophyte. Dioicous is the complementary term describing species in which gametophytes produce only sperm or eggs but never both.[1][2] The terms are used largely but not exclusively in the context of bryophytes. Both monoicous and dioicous gametophytes produce gametes in gametangia by mitosis rather than meiosis, so that sperm and eggs are genetically identical with their parent gametophyte.


Etymology and history

The word monoicous and the related forms mon(o)ecious are derived from the Greek mόνος (mónos), single, and οἶκος (oîkos) or οἰκία (oikía), house. The words dioicous and di(o)ecious are derived from οἶκος or οἰκία and δι- (di-), twice, double. (o)e is the Latin way of transliterating Greek οι, whereas oi is a more straightforward modern way. Generally, the terms "monoicous" and "dioicous" have been restricted to description of haploid sexuality (gametophytic sexuality), and are thus used primarily to describe bryophytes in which the gametophyte is the dominant generation. Meanwhile, "monoecious" and "dioecious" are used to describe diploid sexuality (sporophytic sexuality), and thus are used to describe tracheophytes (vascular plants) in which the sporophyte is the dominant generation.[3] However, this usage, although precise, is not universal, and "monoecious" and "dioecious" are still used by some bryologists for the gametophyte.[4]

Bryophyte sexuality

Bryophytes have life cycles that are gametophyte dominated. The longer lived, more prominent autotrophic plant is the gametophyte. The typical sporophyte in bryophytes is nutritionally dependent on the gametophyte, and consists of an unbranched stalk (a seta) bearing a single sporangium inside a capsule.

Antheridia and archegonia are often clustered. A cluster of antheridia is called an androecium while a cluster of archegonia is called a gynoecium. (Note these terms have a different meaning when used to refer to flower structures.)

Bryophytes have the most elaborate gametophytes of all living land plants, and thus have a wide variety of gametangium positions and developmental patterns.

Gametangia are typically born on the tips of shoots, but may also be found in the axils of leaves, under thalli or on elaborate structures called gametangiophores.

Bryophyte species may be:

  • Autoicous meaning that androecia and gynoecia are found on the same individual (monoicous) but in distinctly separate. If these are on separate branches, the term cladautoicous can be applied.
  • Synoicous (also called androgynous) bryophytes produce antheridia and archegonia interspersed in the same cluster.
  • Paroicous bryophytes produce antheridia and archegonia in separate clusters in different leaf axils.
  • Heteroicous bryophyte species may be either monoicous or sequentially dioicous depending on environmental conditions. This condition is also called polygamous or polyoicous.

Role in survival

There can be both selective advantages and selective disadvantages for organisms that are monoicous or dioicous. Monoicous bryophytes can easily reproduce sexually, since both sexes can be found on the same organism. On the other hand, this can lead to inbreeding and reduce genetic variation within populations.[5] Dioicous organisms necessarily exchange genes with other organisms of the species during sexual reproduction, increasing heterozygosity and variability (given a sufficiently large variable mating population). If isolated, however, organisms may only reproduce asexually, which could present a severe selective disadvantage over time. Bryophyte sperm dispersal can therefore be key to species longevity, particularly in dioicous species. While sperm dispersal is typically passive, with sperm dispersing through water, certain species exhibit very active dispersal mechanisms, such as aerial dispersal recently described in the liverwort Conocephalum conicum.[6]


  1. ^ B.J. Crandall-Stotler and S.E. Bartholomew-Began (2007) Morphology of Mosses (Phylum Bryophyta) In: Flora of North America Editorial Committee, eds. 1993+. Flora of North America North of Mexico. 16+ vols. New York and Oxford. Volume 27, 2007.
  2. ^ PR Bell and AR Helmsley (1992, 2nd Edition 2000) Green plants, their origin and diversity. Cambridge University Press
  3. ^ A. Jonathan Shaw and Bernard Goffinet, eds. 2000. Bryophyte Biology. Cambridge University Press: New York, NY.
  4. ^ See e.g. Taylor, Eppley & Jesson 2007.
  5. ^ Taylor, P.J.; Eppley, S.M. & Jesson, L.K. (2007), "Sporophytic inbreeding depression in mosses occurs in a species with separate sexes but not in a species with combined sexes", American Journal of Botany 94 (1853-9), 
  6. ^ Masaki Shimamura, Tomio Yamaguchi, and Hironori Deguchi. 2007. Airborne sperm of Conocephalum conicum (Conocephalaceae). Journal of Plant Research 121(1):69-71.

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