Does stronger pollen competition improve offspring fitness when pollen load does not vary?

C. Pelabon, L. Hennet, G. H. Bolstad, E. Albertsen, O. H. Opedal, R. K. Ekrem, W. S. Armbruster

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PREMISE OF THE STUDY: Competition among pollen grains from a single donor is expected to increase the quality of the offspring produced because of the recessive deleterious alleles expressed during pollen-tube growth. However, evidence for such an effect is inconclusive; a large number of studies suffer from confounding variation in pollen competition with variation in pollen load. 
METHODS: In this study, we tested the effect of pollen competition on offspring performance independently of pollen-load variation. We compared seed mass and early seedling performance in Dalechampia scandens (Euphorbiaceae) between crosses in which variation in pollen competition was achieved, without variation in pollen load, by manipulating the dispersion of pollen grains on the stigmas. 
KEY RESULTS: Despite a large sample size (211 crosses on 20 maternal plants), we failed to find an effect of pollen competition on seed characteristics or early seedling performance. Paternal effects were always limited, and pollen competition never reduced the within-father (residual) variance. 
CONCLUSIONS: These results suggest that limited within-donor variation in genetic quality of pollen grains reduces the potential benefits of pollen competition in the study population. The lack of paternal effects on early sporophyte performance further suggests that benefits of pollen competition among pollen from multiple donors should be limited as well, and it raises questions about the significance of pollen competition as a mechanism of sexual selection.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)522-531
JournalAmerican Journal of Botany
Early online date26 Aug 2015
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2016


  • evolvability
  • germination
  • paternal effect
  • pollen tube growth
  • prezygotic selection
  • sexual selection


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