The pollen competition hypothesis predicts that when the number of pollen grains deposited onto stigmas exceeds the number of ovules, selection can operate in the time frame between deposition and fertilization. Moreover, because of the overlap in gene expression between the two phases of the life cycle, selection on microgametophytes may alter the resulting sporophytic generation. The extent to which pollen competition occurs in nature has been unclear, because tests of the predictions of the pollen competition hypothesis have used cultivars and/or artificial growth conditions and hand-pollination techniques. In this study we used a wild species, Cucurbita foetidissima, in its natural habitat (southern New Mexico) to determine the amount and timing of the arrival of pollen onto stigmas, the relationship between pollen deposition and seed number, and the effects of the intensity of pollen competition on progeny vigor. We found that ~900 pollen grains are necessary for full seed set and that a single visit by a pollinator results in the deposition of 653.0 ± 101.8 pollen grains. About 29% of the flowers receiving a single pollinator visit had 900 or more pollen grains on its stigma. Moreover, within 2 h of anthesis, >4000 pollen grains were deposited onto a typical stigma, indicating that multiple pollinator visits must have occurred. Fruits produced by multiple visits had greater seed numbers (206 vs. 147) than fruits produced by a single visit. Finally, the progeny produced by multiple pollinator visits were more vigorous than those produced by single visits with respect to five measures of vegetative growth (MANCOVA, Wilks' lambda = 0.96, F6.370 = 2.54, P < 0.02. These data demonstrate that conditions for pollen competition exist in nature and support the prediction that pollen competition enhances offspring vigor.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Plant Science