Plant Systematics and Evolution

, Volume 222, Issue 1, pp 187–209

Pollen nutritional content and digestibility for animals

  • T. H. Roulston
  • J. H. Cane

DOI: 10.1007/BF00984102

Cite this article as:
Roulston, T.H. & Cane, J.H. Pl Syst Evol (2000) 222: 187. doi:10.1007/BF00984102


This paper reviews the literature concerning digestion and nutrient content of pollen. Four topics are addressed in detail: 1) The mechanism of pollen digestion by animals; 2) The efficiency of mechanical and digestive removal of pollen content by various animals; 3) Range and taxonomic distribution of pollen nutrients, and 4) Adaptive hypotheses proposed to associate pollen chemistry with pollinator reward. Studies on the mechanism(s) of pollen digestion remain inconclusive, but suggest that differences in digestibility among pollen types may reflect differences in pollen wall porosity, thickness, and composition. Although hummingbirds reportedly digest pollen very poorly, most animals studied, including those that do not regularly consume pollen, can digest 50–100% of ingested grains. Overlooked and recent research of pollen protein content shows that pollen grains may contain over 60% protein, double the amount cited in some studies of pollen-feeding animals. Adaptive hypotheses that associate pollen starch and pollen caloric content with pollinator reward remain unsubstantiated when critically viewed through the lens of phylogeny.

Key words

Pollen chemistry pollen digestion pollination syndrome palynology bees nutrition 

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • T. H. Roulston
    • 1
  • J. H. Cane
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of EntomologyNorth Carolina State UniversityRaleighUSA
  2. 2.USDA-ARS Bee Biology and Systematics LabUtah State UniversityLoganUSA

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