Pollinator or pedigree: Which factors determine the evolution of pollen nutrients?

Fabian A. Ruedenauer, Johannes Spaethe, Casper J. van der Kooi, Sara D. Leonhardt

OnderzoeksoutputAcademicpeer review

24 Citaten (Scopus)
78 Downloads (Pure)


A prime example of plant-animal interactions is the interaction between plants and pollinators, which typically receive nectar and/or pollen as reward for their pollination service. While nectar provides mostly carbohydrates, pollen represents the main source of protein and lipids for many pollinators. However, the main function of pollen is to carry nutrients for pollen tube growth and thus fertilization. It is unclear whether pollinator attraction exerts a sufficiently strong selective pressure to alter the nutritional profile of pollen, e.g., through increasing its crude protein content or protein-to-lipid ratio, which both strongly affect bee foraging. Pollen nutritional quality may also be merely determined by phylogenetic relatedness, with pollen of closely related plants showing similar nutritional profiles due to shared biosynthetic pathways or floral morphologies. Here, we present a meta-analysis of studies on pollen nutrients to test whether differences in pollen nutrient contents and ratios correlated with plant insect pollinator dependence and/or phylogenetic relatedness. We hypothesized that if pollen nutritional content was affected by pollinator attraction, it should be different (e.g., higher) in highly pollinator-dependent plants, independent of phylogenetic relatedness. We found that crude protein and the protein-to-lipid ratio in pollen strongly correlated with phylogeny. Moreover, pollen protein content was higher in plants depending mostly or exclusively on insect pollination. Pollen nutritional quality thus correlated with both phylogenetic relatedness and pollinator dependency, indicating that, besides producing pollen with sufficient nutrients for reproduction, the nutrient profile of zoophilous plants may have been shaped by their pollinators' nutritional needs.
Originele taal-2English
Pagina's (van-tot)349-358
Aantal pagina's10
Nummer van het tijdschrift2
Vroegere onlinedatum28-aug.-2019
StatusPublished - okt.-2019

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