Kristina Bolinder
Kristina Bolinder

Pollen and pollination in Ephedra (Gnetales)

Ephedra (Gnetales) is a gymnosperm genus with a long evolutionary history; the first dispersed pollen grains with affinity to the group are known already from the Permian. This thesis focuses on the evolutionary history of the group and different aspects of its pollination mechanisms. Despite the limited number of extant species of the genus (50-60), and a low morphological and genetic divergence among species, there is variation in pollination syndrome in the genus. The prevailing state in Ephedra, and most gymnosperms, is wind pollination. It is therefore surprising that one species, E. foeminea, is insect-pollinated. Together with co-workers I documented the pollination syndromes of E. foeminea and a sympatric species, E. distachya, based on long term field experiments in north-eastern Greece and aerodynamic investigations and calculations. Placing the results into an evolutionary framework reveals that the insect-pollinated species E. foeminea is sister to the remaining (mostly wind-pollinated) genus, and indicates that insect pollination is the ancestral state in the Gnetales. During the course of evolution of the group there has been a shift to wind pollination, which may have played a crucial role for the diversification of the crown group in the Paleogene. Pollination biology is often correlated with the morphology of the pollen such that pollen grains of anemophilous plants are small with a smooth surface, whereas pollen grains of entomophilous plants are larger with an ornamented surface and a covering of pollenkitt. The pollen morphology of Ephedra can be broadly divided into two types: an ancestral type with an unbranched pseudosulcus between each pair of plicae, and a derived type with a branched pseudosulcus between each pair of plicae. Further, the pollen morphology and ultrastructure of the pollen wall in Ephedra are to some degree correlated with the pollination syndrome and capability of long distance dispersal. Pollen of E. foeminea has a denser ultrastructure, as a result a higher settling velocity and is therefore capable of flying shorter distances than does pollen of the anemophilous E. distachya, and other investigated anemophilous species that show a more spacious ultrastructure of the pollen grain. These results can be useful in the reconstruction of the pollination mechanism of extinct taxa of the Ephedra-lineage in the future.

Link to thesis: http://su.diva-portal.org/smash/record.jsf?pid=diva2:1082324