The buck in the milkweed: evidence of male–male interference among pollinaria on pollinators



  • Direct physical confrontation among conspecifics for access to mates is a form of sexual selection well known among animals, but not thought to take place in plants. Consequently, no structures are known that can be considered as weapons that evolved under such confrontation. Pollinaria of milkweeds may physically compete for access to attachment points on the pollinators' body, and occasionally pollinaria may link onto pre-existing pollinaria on a pollinator resulting in concatenation.
  • We hypothesized that concatenation may result in interference between proximal and distal pollinaria, and that features of nonconcatenating pollinaria might be attributed to prevention of concatenation. We tested this by analyzing pollen donation efficiency, experimental manipulation of the phenotype and the phylogenetic patterns of co-occurrence of traits.
  • It is shown that concatenation was able to diminish the reproductive performance of proximal pollinaria, that horns on pollinaria prevented concatenation, and that horn acquisition was correlated with a loss of concatenation. The experimental removal of horns in species that did not concatenate caused reversion to concatenation.
  • The present work could be the first evidence of male physical struggles and of the acquisition of weapons related to these struggles, that are analogous to those known in animals.