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Concept: Pollen


Recent advances in molecular phylogenetics and a series of important palaeobotanical discoveries have revolutionized our understanding of angiosperm diversification. Yet, the origin and early evolution of their most characteristic feature, the flower, remains poorly understood. In particular, the structure of the ancestral flower of all living angiosperms is still uncertain. Here we report model-based reconstructions for ancestral flowers at the deepest nodes in the phylogeny of angiosperms, using the largest data set of floral traits ever assembled. We reconstruct the ancestral angiosperm flower as bisexual and radially symmetric, with more than two whorls of three separate perianth organs each (undifferentiated tepals), more than two whorls of three separate stamens each, and more than five spirally arranged separate carpels. Although uncertainty remains for some of the characters, our reconstruction allows us to propose a new plausible scenario for the early diversification of flowers, leading to new testable hypotheses for future research on angiosperms.

Concepts: Pollination, Flowering plant, Flower, Pollen, Plant sexuality, Petal, Sepal, Asteraceae


Pollination of several angiosperms is based on deceit. In such systems, the flowers advertise a reward that ultimately is not provided. We report on a previously unknown pollination/mimicry system discovered in deceptive Aristolochia rotunda (Aristolochiaceae). Pollinators were collected in the natural habitat and identified. Flower scent and the volatiles of insects (models) potentially mimicked were analyzed by chemical analytical techniques. Electrophysiological and behavioral tests on the pollinators identified the components that mediate the plant-pollinator interaction and revealed the model of the mimicry system. The main pollinators of A. rotunda were female Chloropidae. They are food thieves that feed on secretions of true bugs (Miridae) while these are eaten by arthropod predators. Freshly killed mirids and Aristolochia flowers released the same scent components that chloropids use to find their food sources. Aristolochia exploits these components to deceive their chloropid pollinators. Aristolochia and other trap flowers were believed to lure saprophilous flies and mimic brood sites of pollinators. We demonstrate for A. rotunda, and hypothesize for other deceptive angiosperms, the evolution of a different, kleptomyiophilous pollination strategy. It involves scent mimicry and the exploitation of kleptoparasitic flies as pollinators. Our findings suggest a reconsideration of plants assumed to show sapromyiophilous pollination.

Concepts: Insect, Mimicry, Pollination, Flower, Lepidoptera, Pollen, Deception, Aristolochia


Planted meadows are increasingly used to improve the biodiversity and aesthetic amenity value of urban areas. Although many ‘pollinator-friendly’ seed mixes are available, the floral resources these provide to flower-visiting insects, and how these change through time, are largely unknown. Such data are necessary to compare the resources provided by alternative meadow seed mixes to each other and to other flowering habitats. We used quantitative surveys of over 2 million flowers to estimate the nectar and pollen resources offered by two exemplar commercial seed mixes (one annual, one perennial) and associated weeds grown as 300m2 meadows across four UK cities, sampled at six time points between May and September 2013. Nectar sugar and pollen rewards per flower varied widely across 65 species surveyed, with native British weed species (including dandelion, Taraxacum agg.) contributing the top five nectar producers and two of the top ten pollen producers. Seed mix species yielding the highest rewards per flower included Leontodon hispidus, Centaurea cyanus and C. nigra for nectar, and Papaver rhoeas, Eschscholzia californica and Malva moschata for pollen. Perennial meadows produced up to 20x more nectar and up to 6x more pollen than annual meadows, which in turn produced far more than amenity grassland controls. Perennial meadows produced resources earlier in the year than annual meadows, but both seed mixes delivered very low resource levels early in the year and these were provided almost entirely by native weeds. Pollen volume per flower is well predicted statistically by floral morphology, and nectar sugar mass and pollen volume per unit area are correlated with flower counts, raising the possibility that resource levels can be estimated for species or habitats where they cannot be measured directly. Our approach does not incorporate resource quality information (for example, pollen protein or essential amino acid content), but can easily do so when suitable data exist. Our approach should inform the design of new seed mixes to ensure continuity in floral resource availability throughout the year, and to identify suitable species to fill resource gaps in established mixes.

Concepts: Amino acid, Plant, Essential amino acid, Pollination, Flower, Pollen, Cornflower, Garden plants


The daylily (Hemerocallis fulva) and nightlily (H. citrina) are typical examples of a butterfly-pollination system and a hawkmoth-pollination system, respectively. H. fulva has diurnal, reddish or orange-colored flowers and is mainly pollinated by diurnal swallowtail butterflies. H. citrina has nocturnal, yellowish flowers with a sweet fragrance and is pollinated by nocturnal hawkmoths. We evaluated the relative roles of flower color and scent on the evolutionary shift from a diurnally flowering ancestor to H. citrina. We conducted a series of experiments that mimic situations in which mutants differing in either flower color, floral scent or both appeared in a diurnally flowering population. An experimental array of 6 × 6 potted plants, mixed with 24 plants of H. fulva and 12 plants of either F1 or F2 hybrids, were placed in the field, and visitations of swallowtail butterflies and nocturnal hawkmoths were recorded with camcorders. Swallowtail butterflies preferentially visited reddish or orange-colored flowers and hawkmoths preferentially visited yellowish flowers. Neither swallowtail butterflies nor nocturnal hawkmoths showed significant preferences for overall scent emission. Our results suggest that mutations in flower color would be more relevant to the adaptive shift from a diurnally flowering ancestor to H. citrina than that in floral scent.

Concepts: Fruit, Pollination, Flower, Pollinator decline, Pollination syndrome, Pollen, Flowers, Stamen


Floral displays are under selection to both attract pollinators and deter antagonists. Here we show that a common floral trait, a nectar guide pattern, alters the behavior of bees that can act opportunistically as both pollinators and as antagonists. Generally, bees access nectar via the floral limb, transporting pollen through contact with the plant’s reproductive structures; however bees sometimes extract nectar from a hole in the side of the flower that they or other floral visitors create. This behavior is called “nectar robbing” because bees may acquire the nectar without transporting pollen. We asked whether the presence of a symmetric floral nectar guide pattern on artificial flowers affected bumble bees' (Bombus impatiens) propensity to rob or access nectar “legitimately.” We discovered that nectar guides made legitimate visits more efficient for bees than robbing, and increased the relative frequency of legitimate visits, compared to flowers lacking nectar guides. This study is the first to show that beyond speeding nectar discovery, a nectar guide pattern can influence bees' flower handling in a way that could benefit the plant.

Concepts: Pollination, Plant morphology, Flower, Pollinator decline, Pollination syndrome, Pollen, Bee, Bumblebee


With more than 80% of flowering plant species specialized for animal pollination, understanding how wild pollinators utilize resources across environments can encourage efficient planting and maintenance strategies to maximize pollination and establish resilience in the face of environmental change. A fundamental question is how generalist pollinators recognize “flower objects” in vastly different ecologies and environments. On one hand, pollinators could employ a specific set of floral cues regardless of environment. Alternatively, wild pollinators could recognize an exclusive signature of cues unique to each environment or flower species. Hoverflies, which are found across the globe, are one of the most ecologically important alternative pollinators after bees and bumblebees. Here, we have exploited their cosmopolitan status to understand how wild pollinator preferences change across different continents. Without employing any a priori assumptions concerning the floral cues, we measured, predicted, and finally artificially recreated multimodal cues from individual flowers visited by hoverflies in three different environments (hemiboreal, alpine, and tropical) using a field-based methodology. We found that although “flower signatures” were unique for each environment, some multimodal lures were ubiquitously attractive, despite not carrying any reward, or resembling real flowers. While it was unexpected that cue combinations found in real flowers were not necessary, the robustness of our lures across insect species and ecologies could reflect a general strategy of resource identification for generalist pollinators. Our results provide insights into how cosmopolitan pollinators such as hoverflies identify flowers and offer specific ecologically based cues and strategies for attracting pollinators across diverse environments.

Concepts: Natural environment, Pollination, Flower, Pollinator decline, Pollination syndrome, Pollen, Bee, Self-pollination


Allergy immunotherapy targets the immunological cause of allergic rhinoconjunctivitis and allergic asthma and has the potential to alter the natural course of allergic disease.

Concepts: Immune system, Asthma, Immunology, Allergy, Mast cell, Pollen, Rhinitis, Allergen immunotherapy


Ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia) and mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) are the major cause of pollen allergy in late summer. Allergen-specific lymphocytes are crucial for immune modulation during immunotherapy. We sought to generate and pre-clinically characterise highly immunogenic domains of the homologous pectate lyases in ragweed (Amb a 1) and mugwort pollen (Art v 6) for immunotherapy.

Concepts: Immune system, Antibody, Immunology, Allergy, Pollen, Ragweed, Ambrosia artemisiifolia, Mugwort


Crosses among single-, double- and multi-petal jasmine cultivars (Jasminum sambac Aiton) are unable to easily generate hybrids. To identify the reproductive barriers restricting hybrid set, dynamic changes in jasmine pollen viability and pistil receptivity were compared at different flowering stages. Pollen-pistil interactions in six reciprocal crosses were also investigated to characterize pollen-stigma compatibility. Additionally, paraffin sections of pollinated embryo sacs were prepared for subsequent analyses of developmental status. Furthermore, pistil cell ultrastructural characteristics were observed to reveal cytological mechanism regulating pistil receptivity and the pollen-pistil interactions. We observed that pollen viability and stigma receptivity varied depending on petal phenotype and flowering stage and were easily lost during flowering. Different reciprocal crosses exhibited varied pollen-stigma compatibilities according to the pollen germination rates. Although some pollen grains germinated normally on maternal stigmas, the pollen tubes were arrested in the pistils and were unable to reach the ovaries. Additionally, the embryo sacs remained unfertilized until degenerating. Therefore, jasmine crosses are affected by pre-fertilization reproductive barriers. Low pollen fertility and poor stigma receptivity are detrimental to pollen germination and pollen-pistil compatibility, indicating they are two factors affecting hybrid set. Ultrastructural observation of the pistil cells revealed that cell death occurred during flowering. Thus, the early and rapid senescence of pistils is likely responsible for the decreased pistil receptivity and inhibited pollen tube growth. These findings may be relevant for future jasmine hybridizations. They provide new insights for the development of methods to overcome reproductive barriers and may also be useful for clarifying the phylogenetic relationships among jasmine cultivars with differing petal phenotypes.

Concepts: Pollination, Plant morphology, Flower, Germination, Pollen tube, Pollen, Jasmine, Jasminum sambac


Here we report on angiosperm-like pollen and Afropollis from the Anisian (Middle Triassic, 247.2-242.0 Ma) of a mid-latitudinal site in Northern Switzerland. Small monosulcate pollen grains with typical reticulate (semitectate) sculpture, columellate structure of the sexine and thin nexine show close similarities to early angiosperm pollen known from the Early Cretaceous. However, they differ in their extremely thin inner layer (nexine). Six different pollen types (I-VI) are differentiated based on size, reticulation pattern, and exine structure. The described pollen grains show all the essential features of angiosperm pollen. However, considering the lack of a continuous record throughout the lower part of the Mesozoic and the comparison with the oldest Cretaceous finds we suggest an affinity to an angiosperm stem group. Together with the previously published records from the Middle Triassic of the Barents Sea area the angiosperm-like pollen grains reflect a considerable diversity of the parent plants during the Middle Triassic. Sedimentological evidence and associated palynofloras also suggest a remarkable ecological range for these plants. Associated with these grains we found pollen comparable to the genus Afropollis. Representatives of this genus are commonly recorded in Lower Cretaceous sediments of low latitudes, but until now had no record from the lower part of the Mesozoic.

Concepts: Flowering plant, Pollen, Cretaceous, Triassic, Psittacosaurus, Early Cretaceous, Spinosauridae, Anisian