Quirks & Quarks

Plants pick their Pollinators

Canadian researchers discover plants "deciding" which hummingbirds they will allow to pollinate them so they can avoid inbreeding.
A Green hermit hummingbird extracts nectar from a Heliconia tortuosa flower (Matt Betts)
Mate choice is usually something we associate with humans and other animals, and it's an evolutionarily important behaviour.  If you choose a good mate, then you will likely have more, and fitter offspring and your genetic lineage will survive and prosper. 

But mate choice is not something we usually associate with plants who tend to be stuck with what pollen comes their way.  However two Canadian biologists, Dr. Matthew Betts, an associate Professor in the Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society at Oregon State University, and Dr. Adam Hadley, a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Toronto, seem to have found a plant that does choose its mates indirectly - by choosing which pollinator will fertilize it. 

The plant they studied avoids inbreeding by only accepting pollen from hummingbirds who travel widely, and who therefore are more likely to carry pollen from unrelated plants.

Related Links

- Paper in PNAS
​- Oregon State University release
CBC News story