Spatial Variation in the Intensity of Interactions via Heterospecific Pollen Transfer May Contribute to Local and Global Patterns of Plant Diversity

Document Type


Publication Date



BACKGROUND: Studies that aim to understand the processes that generate and organize plant diversity in nature have a long history in ecology. Among these, the study of plant-plant interactions that take place indirectly via pollinator choice and floral visitation has been paramount. Current evidence, however, indicates that plants can interact more directly via heterospecific pollen (HP) transfer and that these interactions are ubiquitous and can have strong fitness effects. The intensity of HP interactions can also vary spatially, with important implications for floral evolution and community assembly. SCOPE: Interest in understanding the role of heterospecific pollen transfer in the diversification and organization of plant communities is rapidly rising. The existence of spatial variation in the intensity of species interactions and their role in shaping patterns of diversity is also well recognized. However, after 40 years of research, the importance of spatial variation in HP transfer intensity and effects remains poorly known, and thus we have ignored its potential in shaping patterns of diversity at local and global scales. Here, I develop a conceptual framework and summarize existing evidence for the ecological and evolutionary consequences of spatial variation in HP transfer interactions and outline future directions in this field. CONCLUSIONS: The drivers of variation in HP transfer discussed here illustrate the high potential for geographic variation in HP intensity and its effects, as well as in the evolutionary responses to HP receipt. So far, the study of pollinator-mediated plant-plant interactions has been almost entirely dominated by studies of pre-pollination interactions even though their outcomes can be influenced by plant-plant interactions that take place on the stigma. It is hence critical that we fully evaluate the consequences and context-dependency of HP transfer interactions in order to gain a more complete understanding of the role that plant-pollinator interactions play in generating and organizing plant biodiversity.