Journal Article

New frontiers in competition for pollination

Randall J. Mitchell, Rebecca J. Flanagan, Beverly J. Brown, Nickolas M. Waser and Jeffrey D. Karron

in Annals of Botany

Published on behalf of The Annals of Botany Company

Volume 103, issue 9, pages 1403-1413
Published in print June 2009 | ISSN: 0305-7364
Published online March 2009 | e-ISSN: 1095-8290 | DOI:
New frontiers in competition for pollination

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  • Ecology and Conservation
  • Evolutionary Biology
  • Plant Sciences and Forestry


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Co-flowering plant species frequently share pollinators. Pollinator sharing is often detrimental to one or more of these species, leading to competition for pollination. Perhaps because it offers an intriguing juxtaposition of ecological opposites – mutualism and competition – within one relatively tractable system, competition for pollination has captured the interest of ecologists for over a century.


Our intent is to contemplate exciting areas for further work on competition for pollination, rather than to exhaustively review past studies. After a brief historical summary, we present a conceptual framework that incorporates many aspects of competition for pollination, involving both the quantity and quality of pollination services, and both female and male sex functions of flowers. Using this framework, we contemplate a relatively subtle mechanism of competition involving pollen loss, and consider how competition might affect plant mating systems, overall reproductive success and multi-species interactions. We next consider how competition for pollination might be altered by several emerging consequences of a changing planet, including the spread of alien species, climate change and pollinator declines. Most of these topics represent new frontiers whose exploration has just begun.


Competition for pollination has served as a model for the integration of ecological and evolutionary perspectives in the study of species interactions. Its study has elucidated both obvious and more subtle mechanisms, and has documented a range of outcomes. However, the potential for this interaction to inform our understanding of both pure and applied aspects of pollination biology has only begun to be realized.

Keywords: Alien plants; climate change; competition for pollination; facilitation; mating system; mechanism; Lythrum; Mimulus; pollinator visitation; sexual function; invasive species; pollen loss

Journal Article.  9013 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Ecology and Conservation ; Evolutionary Biology ; Plant Sciences and Forestry

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