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Keywords:

  • Alpine plants;
  • fertilisation;
  • pollen germination;
  • pollen tube growth;
  • progamic phase;
  • temperature

Abstract

Progamic processes are particularly temperature-sensitive and, in lowland plants, are usually drastically reduced below 10 °C and above 30 °C. Little is known about how effectively sexual processes of mountain plants function under the large temperature fluctuations at higher altitudes. The present study examines duration and thermal thresholds for progamic processes in six common plant species (Cerastium uniflorum, Gentianella germanica, Ranunculus alpestris, R. glacialis, Saxifraga bryoides, S. caesia) from different altitudinal zones in the European Alps. Whole plants were collected from natural sites shortly before anthesis and kept in a climate chamber until further processing. Flowers with receptive stigmas were hand-pollinated with allopollen and exposed to controlled temperatures between −2 and 40 °C. Pollen performance (adhesion to the stigma, germination, tube growth, fertilisation) was quantitatively analysed, using the aniline blue fluorescence method. Pollen adhesion was possible from −2 to 40 °C. Pollen germination and tube growth occurred from around 0 to 35 °C in most species. Fertilisation was observed from 5 to 30–32 °C (0–35 °C in G. germanica). The progamic phase was shortest in G. germanica (2 h at 30 °C, 12 h at 5 °C, 24 h at 0 °C), followed by R. glacialis (first fertilisation after 2 h at 30 °C, 18 h at 5 °C). In the remaining species, first fertilisation usually occurred after 4–6 h at 30 °C and after 24–30 h at 5 °C. Thus, mountain plants show remarkably flexible pollen performance over a wide temperature range and a short progamic phase, which may be essential for successful reproduction in the stochastic high-mountain climate.