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Letters to Nature
Nature 263, 705 - 706 (21 October 1976); doi:10.1038/263705a0

Submarine pollination in seagrasses

S. C. DUCKER & R. B. KNOX

School of Botany, University of Melbourne, Parkville, Victoria 3052, Australia

THERE is great interest in water plants and their adaptation to the aquatic environment. Seagrasses, in the family Cymodoceaceae, are the only wholly marine group of flowering plants which carry out their entire life cycle in the sea1. The male and female flowers are borne on different plants. Consequently, their pollination mechanism presents intriguing problems, for terrestrial angiosperms, from which seagrasses presumably arose2,3, shed dry pollen. This becomes hydrated only after alighting on the female stigma, where recognition events determine acceptance or rejection of the pollen4. These events seem to involve interactions between surface proteins or glycoproteins borne by both pollen and stigma5. The pollen proteins are released on to the stigma during normal pollination6,7, but are lost from the surface whenever pollen is wetted8. The system found in terrestrial species could thus hardly operate with submarine pollination. We have found that adaptations have occurred in both pollen and stigma of the seagrasses, accommodating the pollination system to the marine environment. Changes in the shape and form of the pollens, together with the loss of the outer wall layer, make it possible for the pollen to be carried in water currents as long, rope-like masses. The receptive stigma cells secrete a proteinaceous surface layer that is not dispersed in seawater, providing a suitable medium for trapping the pollen during submarine pollination.

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References

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14. Knox, R. B., Heslop-Harrison, J., and Heslop-Harrison, Y., in The Biology of the Male Gamete (edit. by Duckett, J. G., and Racey, P. A.), 177–187 (Academic, London, 1975).
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