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Study of flowers with two types of anthers solves mystery that baffled Darwin

Source: ucsc.edu

Most flowering plants depend on pollinators such as bees to transfer pollen from the male anthers of one flower to the female stigma of another flower, enabling fertilisation and the production of fruits and seeds. Bee pollination, however, involves an inherent conflict of interest, because bees are only interested in pollen as a food source.

“The bee and the plant have different goals, so plants have evolved ways to optimise the behaviour of bees to maximise the transfer of pollen between flowers,” explained Kathleen Kay, associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at UC Santa Cruz.

In a study published December 23 in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, Kay’s team described a pollination strategy involving flowers with two distinct sets of anthers that differ in colour, size, and position. Darwin was mystified by such flowers, lamenting in a letter that he had “wasted enormous effort over them, and cannot yet get a glimpse of the meaning of the parts.” MORE

Header image: A Hesperapis regularis bee visits a flower of Clarkia cylindrica at Pinnacles National Park. Credit: Tania Jogesh.