Is sexual organ reciprocity related to legitimate pollen deposition in distylous Pulmonaria (Boraginaceae)?

Published online: 
14 March 2018

Jacquemyn Hans, Gielen Marie, Brys Rein

Heterostyly, i.e. the reciprocal positioning of anthers and stigmas, is a floral polymorphism that is thought to promote disassortative (i.e. between-morph) pollination and to maintain genetic diversity within populations. Recent research, however, has shown several cases of heterostylous plant species in which the reciprocal positioning of the sexual organs varies, which may affect the likelihood of ‘legitimate’ pollination between compatible morphs, and hence morph fitness and ultimately the stability of this floral polymorphism. In this study, we investigated floral morphology and stigmatic pollen deposition patterns in nine Pulmonaria species (Boraginaceae) across Europe to test the hypothesis that sexual organ reciprocity is related to legitimate pollen deposition. We used a recently developed adaptive accuracy concept to assess the level of reciprocity and to relate inaccuracies in positioning of sexual organs to legitimate pollen deposition measured on stigmas in the field. The nine investigated Pulmonaria species showed substantial deviations from perfect reciprocity, with total inaccuracies varying between 2.9 and 20.3% relative to the squared mean of all anther and stigma heights in the population. In almost all cases, most of the inaccuracy was generated by the high-level organs. Total pollen deposition was always higher on stigmas of long-styled individuals, but stigmas of short-styled individuals received significantly more legitimate pollen than stigmas of long-styled individuals (71.23% and 38.75% respectively). We also found a weak but significant relationship between measures of inaccuracy and the level of disassortative pollination. Under these conditions of pollen flow, the distylous mating system is predicted to persist in only eleven (27%) of all sampled populations. Overall, these results indicate that deviations from perfect reciprocal herkogamy are common in Pulmonaria and have an impact on legitimate pollen deposition.