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Master Illustrator Debra Jane Carey



A History of Pollination Biology
Pollination is the process of plant reproduction. A plant produces pollen for transport (from male to female organs) utilizing water, wind or animals. The most important reason we, as humans, should be interested in pollination is that the food we eat develops or grows because of the pollination process.

Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778) is the father of systematics. Linnaeus developed the current method of classification that places any given plant into its respective family. This study of classification is called systematics. Once an initial plan of classification was established, the massive collections from plant collectors could be labeled. The famous botanist Charles Darwin (1809-1882) traveled and utilized the collections to extensively study pollination and seed dispersal. He labeled the co evolution of plants and their pollinators an “abominable mystery.”

Coevolution of plants and animals in pollination took a series of evolutionary stages (radiations) to achieve its status. Researchers believe plants and animals rose from the same lineage called Eukaryotes approximately 1.6-2.1 billion years ago, during the Proterozoic era. Of the 60 types of eukaryotes the two most important to pollination are: Opisthoknots (op’is·thot’е·not) which include animals and fungi, and Viridaeplantae (ve·rid’e·plant·e) which consists of green algae and land plants.

Changes in the atmosphere brought about oxygen. This allowed the eukaryotes to become symbiotic and achieve the ability to metabolize and respirate. Drastic changes with unfavorable environmental conditions slowed the progress of pollination for billions of years. It was not until the Cretaceous period approximately 150 million years ago that plant life was able to diversify and flourish, and it did so at an alarming rate.

There is evidence that insects existed before land plants. They evolved from soil insects and then developed the ability to consume fluid and tissue. Finally, they acquired the ability to fly. All of these radiations allowed the animals to utilize the evolving plants for food, shelter and breeding.

The plants, exposed to environmental conditions, did not have the ability to transport. Where insects have the ability to fly, plants are stationary. Plants utilize the senses of animals to attract them by offering fragrance, color and even ultraviolet light and nectar guides. These attractants all guide the pollinator to the location where pollen can be placed for transportation from the male to the female organs. Plants developed attractions to entice animals to visit, offering rewards of fluid, plant tissues and fruits. Rewards first brought generalist pollinators (many species) while advanced relationships attract specialists (one species). Advanced associations exploit the pollinator, in some cases, with no reward.

All of the radiations came at a cost for both species. Insects developed metamorphosis to cope with dehydrating skin, affording them a longer life span. Plants had to create protection strategies for the developing ovary that evolved into petals and sepals. The final stage of evolution for plants was to produce fruit, giving the plants one more chance to reproduce in a life cycle.


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