POLLEN CLUMPING AND WIND DISPERSAL IN AN INVASIVE ANGIOSPERM
Pollen dispersal is a fundamental aspect of plant reproductive biology that maintains connectivity between spatially separated populations. Pollen clumping, a characteristic feature of insect-pollinated plants, is generally assumed to be a detriment to wind pollination because clumps disperse shorter distances than do solitary pollen grains. Yet pollen clumps have been observed in dispersion studies of some widely distributed wind-pollinated species. We used Ambrosia artemisiifolia (common ragweed; Asteraceae), a successful invasive angiosperm, to investigate the effect of clumping on wind dispersal of pollen under natural conditions in a large field. Results of simultaneous measurements of clump size both in pollen shedding from male flowers and airborne pollen being dispersed in the atmosphere are combined with a transport model to show that rather than being detrimental, clumps may actually be advantageous for wind pollination. Initial clumps can pollinate the parent population, while smaller clumps that arise from breakup of larger clumps can cross-pollinate distant populations.