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    Pollen & Pollination
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    Pollen & Pollination Experiments

    Pollen & Pollination Background Information


    Pollination is the process by which pollen is transferred in plants, thereby enabling fertilization and sexual reproduction.

    Pollen is a fine to coarse powder containing the microgametophytes of seed plants, which produce the male gametes (sperm cells), used for plant reproduction.

    A pollinator is the biotic agent or vector (living organism) that moves pollen from the male anthers of a flower to the female stigma of a flower to accomplish fertilization or syngamy of the female gamete in the ovule of the flower by the male gamete from the pollen grain.


    Pollination is part of how flowering plants make seeds. Pollination involves pollen from the male parts of a flower getting to the female parts of a flower (usually a different flower). Each pollen grain has half of the DNA (genetic information) that is needed to make a new plant. During fertilization this combines with the DNA that is in the egg of the female part and a new seed is started.

    Pollen is a powder made of pollen grains, which produce sperm cells (male cells used for reproduction) of seed plants.

    Ways of pollinating: Pollen has to get from one flower to another. There are two main ways that this can happen: by living things like bees, or by non-living things like wind or water. For example - Tomatoes and bees.

    Tomato plants need bees to move the pollen from the male parts of one flower (anthers), to the female parts of another flower (stigma). The bee moves between flowers not because it is feeling helpful, but because it wants to collect the sweet nectar that the flowers have on offer. The bees take the nectar home to their hive to make honey and the tomato plants get to reproduce (make new tomato plants).

    Because the tomato flowers have evolved (changed over time) to attract bees, they have spread-out petals and are white to human eyes (but much prettier to bee eyes). The pollen is big and will get stuck to the bee and taken to the next flower, where it can get rubbed off on the sticky female stigma and grow down to fertilize an egg and make a seed. For example - Maize and the breeze.

    Maize (just called corn in some parts of the world, like New Zealand) is pollinated by wind. The male anthers let go of their pollen and it blows over to a nearby female flower on another corn plant. Most of the flowers are either male OR female on a corn plant, rather than both sexes in one flower.

    Because the maize flowers have evolved (changed over time) to use wind for pollination they are mostly just greenish in color - they don't need pretty petals. The pollen is light so it can blow around, and the ends of the female parts (stigma) are fluffy to catch all the tiny pollen grains.

    80% of plants are pollinated use biotic (living things like insects) pollination, and only 20% use abiotic (non-living things) pollination. Of these abiotic pollinations, 98% is done by wind and just 2% by water.

    Topics of Interest

    Pollination is the process by which pollen is transferred in plants, thereby enabling fertilization and sexual reproduction. Pollen grains, which contain the male gametes (sperm) to where the female gamete(s) are contained within the carpel; in gymnosperms the pollen is directly applied to the ovule itself. The receptive part of the carpel is called a stigma in the flowers of angiosperms. The receptive part of the gymnosperm ovule is called the micropyle. Pollination is a necessary step in the reproduction of flowering plants, resulting in the production of offspring that are genetically diverse.

    Abiotic pollination refers to situations where pollination is mediated without the involvement of other organisms. Only 10% of flowering plants are pollinated without animal assistance. The most common form, anemophily, is pollination by wind. This form of pollination is predominant in grasses, most conifers, and many deciduous trees. Hydrophily is pollination by water and occurs in aquatic plants which release their pollen directly into the surrounding water. About 80% of all plant pollination is biotic. Of the 20% of abiotically pollinated species, 98% is by wind and 2% by water.

    Biotic pollination: More commonly, the process of pollination requires pollinators: organisms that carry or move the pollen grains from the anther to the receptive part of the carpel or pistil. This is biotic pollination. The various flower traits (and combinations thereof) that differentially attract one type of pollinator or another are known as pollination syndromes.

    There are roughly 200,000 varieties of animal pollinators in the wild, most of which are insects. Entomophily, pollination by insects, often occurs on plants that have developed colored petals and a strong scent to attract insects such as, bees, wasps and occasionally ants (Hymenoptera), beetles (Coleoptera), moths and butterflies (Lepidoptera), and flies (Diptera). In Zoophily, pollination is done by vertebrates such as birds and bats, particularly, hummingbirds, sunbirds, spiderhunters, honeyeaters, and fruit bats. Plants adapted to using bats or moths as pollinators typically have white petals and a strong scent, while plants that use birds as pollinators tend to develop red petals and rarely develop a scent (few birds have a sense of smell).

    Pollination can be accomplished by cross-pollination or by self-pollination:

    • Cross-pollination, also called allogamy occurs when pollen is delivered to a flower from a different plant. Plants adapted to outcross or cross-pollinate often have taller stamens than carpels or use other mechanisms to better ensure the spread of pollen to other plants flowers.
    • Self-pollination occurs when pollen from one flower pollinates the same flower or other flowers of the same individual. It is thought to have evolved under conditions when pollinators were not reliable vectors for pollen transport, and is most often seen in short-lived annual species and plants that colonize new locations. Self pollination may include autogamy, were pollen moves to the female part of the same flower; or geitonogamy, when pollen is transferred to another flower on the same plant. Plants adapted to self-fertilize often have similar stamen and carpel lengths. Plants that can pollinate themselves and produce viable offspring are called self-fertile. Plants that can not fertilize themselves are called self-sterile, a condition which mandates cross pollination for the production of offspring.
    • Cleistogamy: is self-pollination that occurs before the flower opens. The pollen is released from the anther within the flower or the pollen on the anther grows a tube down the style to the ovules. It is a type of sexual breeding, in contrast to asexual systems such as apomixis. Some cleistogamous flowers never open, in contrast to chasmogamous flowers that open and are then pollinated. Cleistogamous flowers by necessity are self-compatible or self-fertile plants. Many plants are self-incompatible, and these two conditions are end points on a continuum.

    Pollination management is a branch of agriculture that seeks to protect and enhance present pollinators and often involves the culture and addition of pollinators in monoculture situations, such as commercial fruit orchards. The largest managed pollination event in the world is in Californian almond orchards, where nearly half (about one million hives) of the US honey bees are trucked to the almond orchards each spring. New York's apple crop requires about 30,000 hives; Maine's blueberry crop uses about 50,000 hives each year.

    The ecological and financial importance of natural pollination by insects to agricultural crops, improving their quality and quantity, becomes more and more appreciated and has given rise to new financial opportunities. The vicinity of a forest or wild grasslands with native pollinators near agricultural crops, such as apples, almonds or coffee can improve their yield by about 20%. The benefits of native pollinators may result in forest owners demanding payment for their contribution in the improved crop results - a simple example of the economic value of ecological services.

    Loss of pollinators, also known as Pollinator decline (of which colony collapse disorder is perhaps the most well known) has been noticed in recent years. Observed losses would have significant economic impacts. Possible explanations for pollinator decline include habitat destruction, pesticide, parasitism/diseases, and others.

    Pollen is a fine to coarse powder containing the microgametophytes of seed plants, which produce the male gametes (sperm cells). Pollen grains have a hard coat that protects the sperm cells during the process of their movement between the stamens to the pistil of flowering plants or from the male cone to the female cone of coniferous plants. When pollen lands on a compatible pistil of flowering plants, it germinates and produces a pollen tube that transfers the sperm to the ovule of a receptive ovary. The individual pollen grains are small enough to require magnification to see detail.

    The transfer of pollen grains to the female reproductive structure (pistil in angiosperms) is called pollination. This transfer can be mediated by the wind, in which case the plant is described as anemophilous (literally wind-loving). Anemophilous plants typically produce great quantities of very lightweight pollen grains, sometimes with air-sacs. Non-flowering seed plants (e.g. pine trees) are characteristically anemophilous. Anemophilous flowering plants generally have inconspicuous flowers. Entomophilous (literally insect-loving) plants produce pollen that is relatively heavy, sticky and protein-rich, for dispersal by insect pollinators attracted to their flowers. Many insects and some mites are specialized to feed on pollen, and are called palynivores.

    When placed on the stigma of a flowering plant, under favorable circumstances, a pollen grain puts forth a pollen tube which grows down the tissue of the style to the ovary, and makes its way along the placenta, guided by projections or hairs, to the micropyle of an ovule. The nucleus of the tube cell has meanwhile passed into the tube, as does also the generative nucleus which divides (if it hasn't already) to form two sperm cells. The sperm cells are carried to their destination in the tip of the pollen-tube.

    A Russian theoretical biologist, Vigen Geodakyan (Geodakian), has suggested that the quantity of pollen reaching a pistillate flower can transmit ecological information and also regulate evolutionary plasticity in cross-pollinating plants. Plentiful pollen indicates optimum environmental conditions (for example a plant that is situated at the center of its natural range, in ideal growing conditions, with a large number of male plants nearby, and favorable weather conditions), whereas a small amount of pollen indicates extreme conditions (at the borders of its range, with a deficiency of male plants, and adverse weather conditions). Geodakian believes that the quantity of pollen reaching a pistillate flower defines the sex ratio, dispersion and sexual dimorphism of a plant population. High pollen quantity leads to a reduction of these characteristics and stabilization of a population. Small quantity leads to their increase and destabilization of a population.

    Allergy to pollen is called hay fever. Generally pollens that cause allergies are those of anemophilous plants (pollen is dispersed by air currents.) Such plants produce large quantities of lightweight pollen (because wind dispersal is random and the likelihood of one pollen grain landing on another flower is small) which can be carried for great distances and are easily inhaled, bringing it into contact with the sensitive nasal passages.

    Pollen in human diets: A variety of producers have started selling pollen for human consumption, often marketed as a food (rather than a dietary supplement). The largest constituent is carbohydrates, with protein content ranging from 7 to 35 percent depending on the plant species collected by bees. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not found any harmful effects of pollen consumption, except from the usual allergies. However, FDA does not allow pollen marketers in the United States to make health claims about their produce, as no scientific basis for these has ever been proved. Furthermore, there are possible dangers not only from allergic reactions but also from contaminants such as pesticides and from fungi and bacteria growth related to poor storage procedures. A manufacturers's claim that pollen collecting helps the bee colonies is also controversial.

    In forensic biology, pollen can tell a lot about where a person or object has been, because regions of the world, or even more particular locations such a certain set of bushes, will have a distinctive collection of pollen species. Pollen evidence can also reveal the season in which a particular object picked up the pollen. Pollen has been used to trace activity at mass graves in Bosnia, catch a burglar who brushed against a Hypericum bush during a crime, and has even been proposed as an additive for bullets to enable tracking them.

    Source: Wikipedia (All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License and Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.)

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