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Ecol Appl. 2009 Apr;19(3):656-67.

Determining the viability response of pine pollen to atmospheric conditions during long-distance dispersal.

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  • 1Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina 27708, USA.


Pollen of forest trees can move on the scales of tens to hundreds of kilometers, but the question of its viability during this long distance dispersal (LDD) has yet to be answered. While empirical studies of pollen viability in forest tree species are rare, controlled and scalable data to outdoor studies of the contribution of UV irradiation on pollen viability are not available. A simple protocol that allows the quantification of the viability response of pollen to UV, temperature, and humidity is developed and described here. Bench-scale conditions that approximate a wide range of atmospheric conditions including different humidity, temperature, and UV irradiation condition are used to determine the independent effects of each abiotic stress factor, and empirical functions are fitted and used to scale these bench-scale experiments to outdoor conditions. As a case study, pollen was sampled from two populations of Pinus taeda during two years and was used to quantify the decrease in viability due to atmospheric conditions during LDD. Contrary to maize pollen, P. taeda pollen viability decreased due to humid and cold conditions. The viability response of pollen to UV-A and UV-B corresponded to a viability reduction of about 10% after a full day of exposure. These laboratory findings were corroborated by an outdoor solar exposure experiment. The Fu-Liou online radiation model and a data set of radiosonde observations were used to estimate the typical conditions that would be encountered by LDD pollen. If initially caught in a strong updraft, dispersing P. taeda pollen could be carried many days and thousands of kilometers in the air. The empirical equations for P. taeda pollen viability reduction due to abiotic stresses predicted that 50% of the pollen would survive 24 hours of LDD under typical external conditions. The viable range of the pollen is, therefore, shorter than the physical dispersal distance. The methods used in our experiments are applicable for determination of dispersing pollen viability, especially when effects of different adverse conditions need to be separated. The empirical viability equations that resulted from our experiments can be used in an atmospheric dispersal model to estimate the viable range of tree pollen.

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