Division of labor of anthers in heterantherous plants: flexibility of bee pollen collection behavior may serve to keep plants honest

Daniel R. Papaj, Stephen L. Buchmann, Avery L. Russell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Heteranthery is thought to reflect a division of labor, with some anthers serving a pollinator-feeding function and others serving a pollinating function. Mutualism theory predicts that each participant should try to maximize the benefit it receives from its partner: plants should allocate more pollen to pollination, and pollinators should collect more pollen. Accordingly, plant and pollinator may engage in a ‘tug of war’ with respect to pollen from each anther type, resulting in incomplete division of labor. Here, we explored this idea by conducting a fully factorial manipulation of the availability of pollen in long and short anthers of staminate flowers of Solanum houstonii. We found the following: (1) Bumble bees (Bombus impatiens) preferred to sonicate (collect pollen from) short anthers over long anthers, consistent with a role as feeding and pollinating anthers, respectively; (2) Blocking short anther pores alone increased sonication of long anthers and resulted in collection of pollen from long anthers; (3) Blocking long anther pores alone did not influence sonication of short anthers; (4) The increase in sonication of long anthers, when short anther pores are blocked, was greater when pollen was available in long anthers; (5) Despite shifting sonication effort to long anthers, bees do not move their bodies closer to long anther pores where pollen could be collected more effectively; and (6) analysis of the growth of corbicular loads over time spent buzzing indicates that significant amounts of pollen are collected from long anthers as well as short anthers. We conclude that bees can flexibly increase pollen collection from pollinating anthers, but are constrained from fully exploiting this pollen. This results in checks and balances between plant and bee that may help maintain heteranthery.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)307-315
Number of pages9
JournalArthropod-Plant Interactions
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 1 2017


  • Behavioral plasticity
  • Bumble bee
  • Buzz pollination
  • Floral sonication
  • Heteranthery
  • Pollen collection

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Insect Science


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