Active pollination drives selection for reduced pollen-ovule ratios

Olle Pellmyr, Finn Kjellberg, Edward Allen Herre, Atsushi Kawakita, David H. Hembry, J. Nathaniel Holland, Teresa Terrazas, Wendy Clement, Kari A. Segraves, David M. Althoff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Premise: Variation in pollen-ovule ratios is thought to reflect the degree of pollen transfer efficiency—the more efficient the process, the fewer pollen grains needed. Few studies have directly examined the relationship between pollen-ovule ratio and pollen transfer efficiency. For active pollination in the pollination brood mutualisms of yuccas and yucca moths, figs and fig wasps, senita and senita moths, and leafflowers and leafflower moths, pollinators purposefully collect pollen and place it directly on the stigmatic surface of conspecific flowers. The tight coupling of insect reproductive interests with pollination of the flowers in which larvae develop ensures that pollination is highly efficient. Methods: We used the multiple evolutionary transitions between passive pollination and more efficient active pollination to test if increased pollen transfer efficiency leads to reduced pollen-ovule ratios. We collected pollen and ovule data from a suite of plant species from each of the pollination brood mutualisms and used phylogenetically controlled tests and sister-group comparisons to examine whether the shift to active pollination resulted in reduced pollen-ovule ratios. Results: Across all transitions between passive and active pollination in plants, actively pollinated plants had significantly lower pollen-ovule ratios than closely related passively pollinated taxa. Phylogenetically corrected comparisons demonstrated that actively pollinated plant species had an average 76% reduction in the pollen-ovule ratio. Conclusions: The results for active pollination systems support the general utility of pollen-ovule ratios as indicators of pollination efficiency and the central importance of pollen transfer efficiency in the evolution of pollen-ovule ratio.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)164-170
Number of pages7
JournalAmerican Journal of Botany
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2020


  • mating systems
  • pollen production
  • pollination
  • sister-group comparisons

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics
  • Plant Science


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