Plant Systematics and Evolution

, Volume 222, Issue 1–4, pp 63–87

The ecology and evolution of pollen odors

  • H. E. M. Dobson
  • G. Bergström


The literature is reviewed and new evidence presented that pollen produces odors, which serve multiple functions in pollination and defense. Pollen odor, which originates from pollenkitt, comprises volatiles that belong to the same chemical classes found in flower scents, that are in species-specific mixtures, and that contrast with odors of other floral parts. Pollen can also take up volatiles from surrounding floral odors, but this adsorption is selective and varies among species. Pollen odors are more pronounced in insect- than bird- or wind-pollinated plants, suggesting that volatile emission evolved in part under selection to attract pollinators. Pollen-feeding insects can perceive pollen odor and use it to discriminate between different pollen types and host plants. Pollen odor influences bee foraging, including the location of pollen sources, discrimination of flowers with different amounts of pollen, and hostplant recognition by pollen-specialist species. In the few wind-pollinated plants studied, odors of male flowers or pollen are comparatively high in α-methyl alcohols and ketones; these volatiles may serve in pollen defense, with some known to repel insects. Pollen odor often includes chemicals with documented defense activity, which is probably aimed mainly at nonpollinator pollen-feeding insects and pathogens; an involvement in pollen allelopathy is also possible. Pollen volatiles comprise chemically diverse compounds that may play multiple roles, and their emission in pollen odor undoubtedly evolved under the principle, and often conflicting, selective pressures to both protect the male gametophyte and increase its dispersal by animals.

Key words

Pollenkitt volatiles flowers plant defense pollen foraging pollination 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • H. E. M. Dobson
    • 1
  • G. Bergström
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of BiologyWhitman CollegeWalla WallaUSA
  2. 2.Chemical EcologyGöteborg UniversityGöteborgSweden

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