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Biol Lett. 2006 Mar 22;2(1):65-8.

Doing the twist: A test of Darwin's cross-pollination hypothesis for pollinarium reconfiguration.

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  • 1School of Biological and Conservation Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Private Bag X01, Scottsville 3209, South Africa.


Mating success in plants depends largely on the efficiency of pollen dispersal. For hermaphrodite plants, self-pollination, either within or among flowers, can reduce mating opportunities because of pollen and ovule discounting and inbreeding depression. Self-pollination may be particularly detrimental in plants such as orchids and asclepiads that package each flower's pollen into one or more pollinia which, together with accessory structures, comprise a pollinarium. Darwin proposed that physical reconfiguration of pollinaria serves as a mechanism for reducing the likelihood of self-pollination. To be effective, the time taken for pollinarium reconfiguration would need to exceed that spent by a pollinator on a plant. We investigated pollinarium reconfiguration (including pollinarium bending, pollinium shrinking and anther cap retention) in 19 species and found a strong positive relationship between reconfiguration time and the duration of pollinator visits. Reconfiguration times were also consistently longer than pollinator visit times. These results provide strong support for Darwin's idea that this mechanism promotes cross-pollination.

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