Pollen movement within and among plants affects inbreeding, plant fitness, and the spatial scale of genetic differentiation. Although a number of studies have assessed how plant and floral traits influence pollen movement via changes in pollinator behavior, few have explored how nectar chemical composition affects pollen transfer. As many as 55% of plants produce secondary compounds in their nectar, which is surprising given that nectar is typically thought to attract pollinators. We tested the hypothesis that nectar with secondary compounds may benefit plants by encouraging pollinators to leave plants after visiting only a few flowers, thus reducing self-pollen transfer. We used Gelsemium sempervirens, a plant whose nectar contains the alkaloid gelsemine, which has been shown to be a deterrent to foraging bee pollinators. We found that high nectar alkaloids reduced the total and proportion of self-pollen received by one-half and one-third, respectively. However, nectar alkaloids did not affect female reproduction when we removed the potential for self-pollination (by emasculating all flowers on plants). We then tested the assumption that self-pollen in combination with outcrossed pollen depresses seed set. We found that plants were weakly self-compatible, but self-pollen with outcrossed pollen did not reduce seed set relative to solely outcrossed flowers. Finally, an exponential model of pollen carryover suggests that high nectar alkaloids could benefit plants via increased pollen export (an estimate of male function), but only when pollinators were efficient and abundant and plants had large floral displays. Results suggest that high nectar alkaloids may benefit plants via increased pollen export under a restricted set of ecological conditions, but in general, the costs of high nectar alkaloids in reducing pollination balanced or outweighed the benefits of reducing self-pollen transfer for estimates of female and male reproduction.
Irwin, Rebecca E. and Adler, Lynn S., "Nectar Secondary Compounds Affect Self-Pollen Transfer: Implications for Female and Male Reproduction" (2008). Open Dartmouth: Faculty Open Access Articles. 781.