Pollen morphological variability correlates with a large-scale gradient of aridity

Fatmi, Hindel; Mâalem, Souhaïl; Harsa, Bouchra; Dekak, Ahmed; Chenchouni, Haroun

The study of the morphology of living organisms is essential to understand their evolution and diversity. This study aims to determine the importance of climatic gradients in the diversity of pollen morphotypes using Atriplex halimus L. (Amaranthaceae) as a model species. Atriplex halimus is a perennial shrubby plant, polymorphic and very resistant to severe environmental conditions. In seven bioclimatic zones, ranging from mesic conditions in the north to hot–hyperarid in the south, pollen samples were collected from 49 sites, with seven accessions per bioclimate. Under a light microscope, pollen grains were selected and analyzed from three anthers of different flowers. Besides the usual pollen grain types, some previously unknown morphotypes, such as sulcate, triangular, and ovoid, were observed and described at the different climatic zones. A total of 10 pollen grain shapes were quantified and discussed following their specific occurrences within different climatic zones. Occurrence frequencies of different pollen shapes ranged between 0 % and 85.7 %, where the pantoporate spheroidal was the most widespread in all climatic zones, especially in the desert climate (85.7 %). Five pollen types occurred exclusively once per climate zone. The pantoporate prolate spheroidal in mesomediterranean climate with a long dry season (28.6 %), sulcate in the xerothermomediterranean climate (14.3%), pantoporate subtriangular in the subdesert climate with a short dry season (14.3 %), and pantoporate subprolate and boat-shaped in a subdesert climate with a long dry season with 14.3 % for each. Our findings help to understand the evolutionary effects of climate gradients on pollen morphology and variability in arid and desert areas and point towards a high degree of specialization in order to maximize trade-offs between pollination efficiency and protection of pollen grains from dehydration.

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Fatmi, Hindel / Mâalem, Souhaïl / Harsa, Bouchra / et al: Pollen morphological variability correlates with a large-scale gradient of aridity. 2020. Copernicus Publications.

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