Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

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


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


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


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


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


Declines in insect pollinators across Europe have raised concerns about the supply of pollination services to agriculture. Simultaneously, EU agricultural and biofuel policies have encouraged substantial growth in the cultivated area of insect pollinated crops across the continent. Using data from 41 European countries, this study demonstrates that the recommended number of honeybees required to provide crop pollination across Europe has risen 4.9 times as fast as honeybee stocks between 2005 and 2010. Consequently, honeybee stocks were insufficient to supply >90% of demands in 22 countries studied. These findings raise concerns about the capacity of many countries to cope with major losses of wild pollinators and highlight numerous critical gaps in current understanding of pollination service supplies and demands, pointing to a pressing need for further research into this issue.

Concepts: Agriculture, Insect, Europe, Pollination, Pollen, Pollination management, Bumblebee, Pollinator


Pollinating insects utilise various sensory cues to identify and learn rewarding flower species. One such cue is floral temperature, created by captured sunlight or plant thermogenesis. Bumblebees, honeybees and stingless bees can distinguish flowers based on differences in overall temperature between flowers. We report here that floral temperature often differs between different parts of the flower creating a temperature structure or pattern. Temperature patterns are common, with 55% of 118 plant species thermographed, showing within-flower temperature differences greater than the 2°C difference that bees are known to be able to detect. Using differential conditioning techniques, we show that bumblebees can distinguish artificial flowers differing in temperature patterns comparable to those seen in real flowers. Thus, bumblebees are able to perceive the shape of these within-flower temperature patterns. Floral temperature patterns may therefore represent a new floral cue that could assist pollinators in the recognition and learning of rewarding flowers.

Concepts: Honey bee, Pollination, Flower, Pollinator decline, Pollination syndrome, Pollen, Bee, Bumblebee


Many plants defend themselves against herbivores by chemical deterrents in their tissues and the presence of such substances in floral nectar means that pollinators often encounter them when foraging. The effect of such substances on the foraging behaviour of pollinators is poorly understood. Using artificial flowers in tightly-controlled laboratory settings, we examined the effects of the alkaloid nicotine on bumblebee foraging performance. We found that bumblebees confronted simultaneously with two equally rewarded nicotine-containing and nicotine-free flower types are deterred only by unnaturally high nicotine concentrations. This deterrence disappears or even turns into attraction at lower nectar-relevant concentrations. The alkaloid has profound effects on learning in a dose-dependent manner. At a high natural dose, bees learn the colour of a nicotine-containing flower type more swiftly than a flower type with the same caloric value but without nicotine. Furthermore, after experiencing flowers containing nicotine in any tested concentration, increasing numbers of bumblebees stay more faithful to these flowers, even if they become a suboptimal choice in terms of reward. These results demonstrate that alkaloids enhance pollinator flower constancy, opening new perspectives in co-evolutionary process between plants and pollinators.

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


Understanding the mechanisms enabling coevolution in complex mutualistic networks remains a central challenge in evolutionary biology. We show for the first time, to our knowledge, that a tropical plant species has the capacity to discriminate among floral visitors, investing in reproduction differentially across the pollinator community. After we standardized pollen quality in 223 aviary experiments, successful pollination of Heliconia tortuosa (measured as pollen tube abundance) occurred frequently when plants were visited by long-distance traplining hummingbird species with specialized bills ([Formula: see text] pollen tubes = 1.21 ± 0.12 SE) but was reduced 5.7 times when visited by straight-billed territorial birds ([Formula: see text] pollen tubes = 0.20 ± 0.074 SE) or insects. Our subsequent experiments revealed that plants use the nectar extraction capacity of tropical hummingbirds, a positive function of bill length, as a cue to turn on reproductively. Furthermore, we show that hummingbirds with long bills and high nectar extraction efficiency engaged in daily movements at broad spatial scales (∼1 km), but that territorial species moved only short distances (<100 m). Such pollinator recognition may therefore affect mate selection and maximize receipt of high-quality pollen from multiple parents. Although a diffuse pollinator network is implied, because all six species of hummingbirds carry pollen of H. tortuosa, only two species with specialized bills contribute meaningfully to its reproduction. We hypothesize that this pollinator filtering behavior constitutes a crucial mechanism facilitating coevolution in multispecies plant-pollinator networks. However, pollinator recognition also greatly reduces the number of realized pollinators, thereby rendering mutualistic networks more vulnerable to environmental change.

Concepts: Evolution, Plant, Symbiosis, Pollination, Flower, Pollen, Pollinator, Hummingbird