Sex life of plants reveals conflicts between the sexes

May 08, 2009

The pollen grains of male plants live in great competition. A grain of pollen that succeeds in manipulating the flower’s pistil can emerge victorious from the struggle. This is shown by new research from Lund University in Sweden.

Associate Professor Ĺsa Lankinen and doctoral candidate Josefin Madjidian work at the Division of Plant Ecology at Lund University. They are studying sexual conflicts and pollen competition among plants. Their research shows that conflicts between the sexes do arise.

“We have shown that some grains of pollen can influence the pistil in ways that give an advantage. But at the same time this strategy is to the detriment of the plant,” says Ĺsa Lankinen.

When pollen grains from different individuals land on the surface of a pistil, competition arises over which pollen grains will have the opportunity to fertilize the ovule in the pistil. This ovule is hidden at the very bottom of the pistil. Pollen grains need to have a pollen tube that can quickly penetrate the surface of the pistil and grow down to the ovule.

Lankinen and Madjidian have examined a North American flower plant called Collinisa heterophylla.  Normally, pollen grains in this species sit and wait on the pistil for several days before the pistil surface can be penetrated. However, research shows that some pollen grains can influence the surface in a way that allows their own pollen tubes to successfully penetrate the pistil ahead of other pollen tubes. This means that they can be the first to reach the ovule in the pistil.

This manipulation on the part of the pollen grain constitutes an advantage for the individual , but at the same time it has a negative effect on the total number of seeds that are formed. It might be said that the pistil marshals countermeasures to try to prevent this manipulation, which can lead to an arms race between the sexes. This research study offers indirect evidence of such a race, but the researchers are not yet in a position to say exactly what it looks like.

“It can be difficult to discover sexual conflicts such as these and to pinpoint the properties that are involved. Generally speaking, female plants can affect pollen competition by developing longer pistils or larger receptive area of the pistil, for example, but here we would guess that the explanation has to do with how the chemistry of the pistil influences pollen,” says Ĺsa Lankinen.

More information: These research findings are published in the scientific journal PLoS ONE
Published: May 7, 2009 dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0005477

Source: Swedish Research Council (news : web)

Explore further: Research helps steer mites from bees

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Female plant 'communicates' rejection or acceptance of male

Oct 23, 2008

(PhysOrg.com) -- Without eyes or ears, plants must rely on the interaction of molecules to determine appropriate mating partners and avoid inbreeding. In a new study, University of Missouri researchers have identified pollen ...

New Clues in the Plant Mating Mystery

Feb 16, 2006

New data suggest that molecular communication between the plant sexes--specifically the pollen of males and pistils of females--is more complicated than originally thought. Plants, like animals, avoid inbreeding ...

Nothing to sneeze at: Real-time pollen forecasts

Dec 22, 2008

Researchers in Germany are reporting an advance toward development of technology that could make life easier for millions of people allergic to plant pollen. It could underpin the first automated, real-time ...

Mate choice in plants

Jun 28, 2008

In flowering plants, the female reproductive organ, the pistil, comprises the stigma, style, and ovary. The stigma catches pollen shed by the male anthers. If the pollen is compatible, it will germinate and send tubes through ...

Recommended for you

Research helps steer mites from bees

Sep 19, 2014

A Simon Fraser University chemistry professor has found a way to sway mites from their damaging effects on bees that care and feed the all-important queen bee.

Bird brains more precise than humans'

Sep 19, 2014

(Phys.org) —Birds have been found to display superior judgement of their body width compared to humans, in research to help design autonomous aircraft navigation systems.

User comments : 0