, Volume 60, Issue 1, pp 83-139

Bateman’s principle and plant reproduction: The role of pollen limitation in fruit and seed set

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Abstract

Bateman’s principle states that male fitness is usually limited by the number of matings achieved, while female fitness is usually limited by the resources available for reproduction. When applied to flowering plants this principle leads to the expectation that pollen limitation of fruit and seed set will be uncommon. However, if male searching for mates (including pollen dissemination via external agents) is not sufficiently successful, then the reproductive success of both sexes (or both sex functions in hermaphroditic plants) will be limited by number of matings rather than by resources, and Bateman’s principle cannot be expected to apply. Limitation of female success due to inadequate pollen receipt appears to be a common phenomenon in plants. Using published data on 258 species in which fecundity was reported for natural pollination and hand pollination with outcross pollen, I found significant pollen limitation at some times or in some sites in 159 of the 258 species (62%). When experiments were performed multiple times within a growing season, or in multiple sites or years, the statistical significance of pollen limitation commonly varied among times, sites or years, indicating that the pollination environment is not constant. There is some indication that, across species, supplemental pollen leads to increased fruit set more often than increased seed set within fruits, pointing to the importance of gamete packaging strategies in plant reproduction. Species that are highly self-incompatible obtain a greater benefit relative to natural pollination from artificial application of excess outcross pollen than do self-compatible species. This suggests that inadequate pollen receipt is a primary cause of low fecundity rates in perennial plants, which are often self-incompatible. Because flowering plants often allocate considerable resources to pollinator attraction, both export and receipt of pollen could be limited primarily by resource investment in floral advertisement and rewards. But whatever investment is made is attraction, pollinator behavioral stochasticity usually produces wide variation among flowers in reproductive success through both male and female functions. In such circumstances the optimal deployment of resources among megaspores, microspores, and pollinator attraction may often require more flowers or more ovules per flower than will usually be fertilized, in order to benefit from chance fluctuations that bring in large number of pollen grains. Maximizing seed set for the entire plant in a stochastic pollination environment might thus entail a packaging strategy for flower number or ovule number per flower that makes pollen limitation of fruit or seed set likely. Pollen availability may limit female success in individual flowers, entire plants (in a season or over a lifetime), or populations. The appropriate level must be distinguished depending on the nature of the question being addressed.