Pollinator insects accelerate plant evolution, but a plant changes in different ways depending on the pollinator. After only nine generations, the same plant is larger and more fragrant if pollinated by bumblebees rather than flies, as a study conducted by evolutionary biologists from the University of Zurich reveals.
Not much plant sex happens without pollinator insects: Bees, flies or butterflies transfer the male pollen grains to the stigma of a plant’s female style, thereby ensuring its sexual reproduction. Researchers from the Department of Systematic and Evolutionary Botany at the University of Zurich now reveal that pollinator insects also have a surprisingly strong influence on plant evolution.
Plants pollinated by bumblebees become more fragrant
For their experiment, UZH professor Florian Schiestl and doctoral student Daniel Gervasi used field mustard – a kind of cabbage species and a close relative of oilseed rape. The researchers allowed one plant group to be pollinated solely by bumblebees for nine generations, another only by hoverflies and a third by hand. Afterwards they analyzed the plants, “which differed greatly,” as Florian Schiestl explains.
The plants pollinated by bumblebees were larger and had more fragrant flowers with a greater UV color component, which bees and their relatives see. The plants pollinated by hoverflies, on the other hand, were smaller, their flowers were less fragrant and they self-pollinated considerably more.
According to Schiestl, the mechanism of evolutionary change is fact that different pollinators differ in their preferences and thus preferentially cross-pollinate specific plant individuals, much like a plant breeder using individuals with favorable properties. The flies’ considerably lower pollination efficiency is the cause of the increase in self-pollination. The plants essentially help themselves if the pollinator transfers too little pollen.
Pollinator insects hasten plant evolution
The fact that the plants change so significantly already after nine generations came as a surprise to the researchers: “The traditional assumption is that evolution is a slow process,” explains Schiestl. The evolutionary biologist from UZH draws the following conclusion from his results: “A change in the composition of pollinator insects in natural habitats can trigger a rapid evolutionary transformation in plants.”
This is particularly interesting as certain pollinator insects such as bees have been vastly decimated by the extensive use of pesticides and the depletion of the landscape in recent decades. According to Schiestl, it would thus be conceivable for plants to increasingly rely on flies as pollinators, which would result in the evolution of weaker flower fragrances and more self-pollination. In the longer term, this would reduce a plant population’s genetic variability and the plants would become more susceptible to disease.
Daniel Gervasi, Florian Schiestl. Real-time divergent evolution in plants driven by pollinators. Nature Communications. March 14, 2017. DOI: 10.1038/NCOMMS14691
Prof. Florian Schiestl
Department of Systematic and Evolutionary Botany
University of Zurich
Phone: +41 44 634 84 09
Nathalie Huber | Universität Zürich
Gut microbiome regulates the intestinal immune system, researchers find
19.12.2018 | Brown University
Greener days ahead for carbon fuels
19.12.2018 | DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Different eras of civilization are defined by the discovery of new materials, as new materials drive new capabilities. And yet, identifying the best material...
Researchers from the University of Basel have reported a new method that allows the physical state of just a few atoms or molecules within a network to be controlled. It is based on the spontaneous self-organization of molecules into extensive networks with pores about one nanometer in size. In the journal ‘small’, the physicists reported on their investigations, which could be of particular importance for the development of new storage devices.
Around the world, researchers are attempting to shrink data storage devices to achieve as large a storage capacity in as small a space as possible. In almost...
The more objects we make "smart," from watches to entire buildings, the greater the need for these devices to store and retrieve massive amounts of data quickly without consuming too much power.
Millions of new memory cells could be part of a computer chip and provide that speed and energy savings, thanks to the discovery of a previously unobserved...
What if, instead of turning up the thermostat, you could warm up with high-tech, flexible patches sewn into your clothes - while significantly reducing your...
A widely used diabetes medication combined with an antihypertensive drug specifically inhibits tumor growth – this was discovered by researchers from the University of Basel’s Biozentrum two years ago. In a follow-up study, recently published in “Cell Reports”, the scientists report that this drug cocktail induces cancer cell death by switching off their energy supply.
The widely used anti-diabetes drug metformin not only reduces blood sugar but also has an anti-cancer effect. However, the metformin dose commonly used in the...
12.12.2018 | Event News
10.12.2018 | Event News
06.12.2018 | Event News
19.12.2018 | Materials Sciences
19.12.2018 | Materials Sciences
19.12.2018 | Life Sciences