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The pollination drop (PD) is a characteristic feature of many wind-pollinated gymnosperms. Although accumulating evidence shows that the PD plays a critical role in the pollination process, the mechanism of PD withdrawal is still unclear. Here, we carefully observed the PD withdrawal process and investigated the underlying mechanism of PD withdrawal, which will aid the understanding of wind-pollination efficiency in gymnosperms.
In Ginkgo biloba, PDs were secreted on the micropyle during the pollination period and persisted for about 240h when not pollinated under laboratory conditions. The withdrawal of an isolated PD required only 1h for evaporation, much less than a PD on the living ovule, which required 100h. When pollinated with viable pollen, PDs withdrew rapidly within 4h. In contrast, nonviable pollen and acetone-treated pollen did not cause PD withdrawal. Although 100% relative humidity significantly inhibited PD withdrawal, pollinated PDs still could withdraw completely within 48h. Pollen grains of Cycas revoluta, which are similar to those of G. biloba, could induce PD withdrawal more rapidly than those of two distantly related gymnosperms (Pinus thunbergii and Abies firma) or two angiosperms (Paeonia suffruticosa and Orychophragmus violaceus). Furthermore, pollen of G. biloba and C. revoluta submerged immediately when encountering the PD, then sank to the bottom and entered the micropyle. The saccate pollen of P. thunbergii and A. firma submerged into the PD, but remained floating at the top and finally accumulated on the micropyle after PD withdrawal. In contrast, pollen of the angiosperms P. suffruticosa, Salix babylonica, and O. violaceus did not submerge, instead remaining clustered at the edge without entering the PD.
We conclude that PD withdrawal is primarily determined by the dynamic balance between evaporation and ovule secretion, of which pollen is a critical stimulator. When conspecific pollen grains were submerged in the PD, ovule secretion was subsequently terminated and active absorption occurred. These processes cooperated to influence PD withdrawal. In addition, pollen grain behavior within PDs varied dramatically among taxa, and PDs played a role in distinguishing and transporting pollen in G. biloba.