Developmental Selection within the Angiosperm Style: Using Gamete DNA to Visualize Interspecific Pollen Competition
Among flowering plants, females often have little control over the genetic relatedness of pollen deposited on stigmas. Thus, postpollination processes are of primary importance for mate discrimination. The ability to screen and select among male gametes during pollen tube growth within the female tissues of the stigma, style, and ovary is critical to the process of mate choice and reproductive isolation. However, direct evidence of the mechanistic/developmental processes associated with mate choice in flowering plants is sparse. We studied the contribution of postpollination, prefertilization processes to reproductive isolation in two wind-pollinated species of birch (Betula) that commonly hybridize in nature. We exploited the 3-fold difference in ploidy level between these two species to determine the paternity of individual pollen tubes growing within female reproductive tissues. We then tracked their developmental fate in conspecific, heterospecific, and mixed-species crosses. This design allowed a direct comparison of developmental processes responsible for reproductive isolation in both single-species and mixed-species pollinations. Our results have important implications for the population genetic outcome of hybridization dynamics in natural populations. Paternity analysis of progeny from mixed-species pollinations revealed that conspecific pollen tubes sired more than 98% of seedlings. Biased siring success was not the result of differential embryo abortion. We detected strong, early postpollination barriers such as pollen tube incompatibility, slower pollen tube growth, and delayed generative cell mitosis. Conspecific fertilization precedence was mediated by favorable or unfavorable male-female interactions, but there was no evidence for antagonistic male-male interactions.