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.
The study of pollination brings together many disciplines, such as botany, horticulture, entomology, and ecology. The pollination process as an interaction between flower and vector was first addressed in the 18th century by Christian Konrad Sprengel. It is important in horticulture and agriculture, because fruiting is dependent on fertilisation, which is the end result of pollination.
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.
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 :
Pollination also requires consideration of pollenizers. The terms "pollinator" and "pollenizer" are often confused: a pollinator is the agent that moves the pollen, whether it be bees, flies, bats, moths, or birds; a pollenizer is the plant that serves as the pollen source for other plants. Some plants are self-fertile or self-compatible and can pollinate themselves (e.g., they act as their own pollenizer). Other plants have chemical or physical barriers to self-pollination.
In agriculture and horticulture pollination management, a good pollenizer is a plant that provides compatible, viable and plentiful pollen and blooms at the same time as the plant that is to be pollinated or has pollen that can be stored and used when needed to pollinate the desired flowers. Hybridization is effective pollination between flowers of different species, or between different breeding lines or populations. see also Heterosis.
Peaches are considered self-fertile because a commercial crop can be produced without cross-pollination, though cross-pollination usually gives a better crop. Apples are considered self-incompatible, because a commercial crop must be cross-pollinated. Many commercial fruit tree varieties are grafted clones, genetically identical. An orchard block of apples of one variety is genetically a single plant. Many growers now consider this a mistake. One means of correcting this mistake is to graft a limb of an appropriate pollenizer (generally a variety of crabapple) every six trees or so.
The first fossil record for abiotic pollination is from fern-like plants in the late Carboniferous period. Gymnosperms show evidence for biotic pollination as early as the Triassic period. Many fossilized pollen grains show characteristics similar to the biotically-dispersed pollen today. Furthermore, the gut contents, wing structures, and mouthpart morphologies of fossilized beetles and flies suggest that they acted as early pollinators. The association between beetles and angiosperms during the early Cretaceous period led to parallel radiations of angiosperms and insects into the late Cretaceous. The evolution of nectaries in late Cretaceous flowers signals the beginning of the mutualism between hymenopterans and angiosperms.
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.
Bees are also brought to commercial plantings of cucumbers, squash, melons, strawberries, and many other crops. Honey bees are not the only managed pollinators: a few other species of bees are also raised as pollinators. The alfalfa leafcutter bee is an important pollinator for alfalfa seed in western United States and Canada. Bumblebees are increasingly raised and used extensively for greenhouse tomatoes and other crops.
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.
The American Institute of Biological Sciences reports that native insect pollination saves the United States agricultural economy nearly an estimated $3.1 billion annually through natural crop production; pollination produces some $40 billion worth of products annually in the United States alone.
Pollination of food crops has become an environmental issue, due to two trends. The trend to monoculture means that greater concentrations of pollinators are needed at bloom time than ever before, yet the area is forage poor or even deadly to bees for the rest of the season. The other trend is the decline of pollinator populations, due to pesticide misuse and overuse, new diseases and parasites of bees, clearcut logging, decline of beekeeping, suburban development, removal of hedges and other habitat from farms, and public paranoia about bees. Widespread aerial spraying for mosquitoes due to West Nile fears is causing an acceleration of the loss of pollinators.
The US solution to the pollinator shortage, so far, has been for commercial beekeepers to become pollination contractors and to migrate. Just as the combine harvesters follow the wheat harvest from Texas to Manitoba, beekeepers follow the bloom from south to north, to provide pollination for many different crops.
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.
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Pollination is part of sexual reproduction in plants. It describes the pollen grains getting to the female parts of a plant. Pollen grains, which contain the male gametes (sperm), need to get to where the female gamete(s) are.
What happens is basically the same as sexual reproduction in animals. Each pollen grain is haploid: it 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 zygote is formed. In seed plants a seed is started.
In flowering plants, pollen has to get from one flower to another. There are two main ways that this can happen: by non-living things like wind or water, or by by living things such as insects or birds.
Maize (called corn in some parts of the world) 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 (dioecious), rather than both sexes in one flower (monoecious).
Maize flowers have evolved (changed over time) to use wind for pollination. They do not 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.
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 needs 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 to attract bees, they have spread-out petals and are white to human eyes (but much prettier to bee eyes). The pollen is often stuck together in clumps called pollinia, which in turn get stuck to the bee. Bees are extremely hairy, and many carry tiny electric charges which attract the pollen onto their bodies. Honey bees have special pollen baskets, usually on their rear legs; they groom the pollen off their bodies into these pockets. Much of the pollen gets taken back to the nest or hive, where it is used as a source of protein. Some gets rubbed off on the next flower, where the female stigma is sticky. A pollen tube grows down to permit the male gamete to fertilize an egg and make a seed.
80% of plants are pollinated by living things, and only 20% use abiotic (non-living) pollination. Of these abiotic pollinations, 98% is done by wind and just 2% by water.
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