Multi-year stigmatic pollen-load sampling reveals temporal stability in interspecific pollination of flowers in a subalpine meadow

Qiang Fang, Jie Gao, Scott Armbruster, Shuang-Quan Huang

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Co-flowering plants may commonly experience interspecific pollination. It remains unknown, however, whether interspecific pollination is a largely stochastic process or consistent enough over years to exert selection for traits that can reduce interspecific pollination or ameliorate its deleterious effects on reproduction. To assess the likelihood of this precondition being met, stigmatic pollen loads on 17 to 34 insect-pollinated plant species over 3 consecutive years were scored in a subalpine meadow in southwestern China. Plant species varied significantly in the amount and proportion of heterospecific pollen (HP) on stigmas. Both the number of HP species and the proportion of the pollen load that was HP for each recipient species correlated positively between years (reflected in pairwise correlations for all year-by-year combinations). Although inter-annual variation was smaller for conspecific pollen (CP) than for HP loads, species tended to experience either consistently high or consistently low HP proportions across years. We found that species with higher stigmatic HP proportions generally experienced lower proportional variation in stigmatic HP, an unexpected result if high HP loads are the result of rare stochastic events. The novel finding of between-year consistency in stigmatic loads of heterospecific pollen suggests that adaption to stigmatic loads of HP is possible, and two divergent strategies may have evolved: HP avoidance and HP tolerance. The observation of temporally consistent differences among species in levels of HP supports the idea that natural selection may be operating either to increase tolerance or to minimize arrival of heterospecific pollen on stigmas in co-flowering plants. Such adaptations may be important for the maintenance of high levels of local plant diversity in biodiversity hotspots such as our study area.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1739-1747
Number of pages9
Issue number12
Early online date6 Jul 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2019


  • avoidance and tolerance
  • co-flowering species
  • conspecific pollen
  • heterospecific pollen
  • interspecific pollination
  • pollen deposition
  • species coexistence
  • temporal dynamics


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