Background and aimsUnderstanding the species composition of pollen on pollinators has applications in agriculture, conservation and evolutionary biology. Current identification methods, including morphological analysis, cannot always discriminate taxa at the species level. Recent advances in flow cytometry techniques for pollen grains allow rapid testing of large numbers of pollen grains for DNA content, potentially providing improved species resolution.
MethodsA test was made as to whether pollen loads from single bees (honey-bees and bumble-bees) could be classified into types based on DNA content, and whether good estimates of proportions of different types could be made. An examination was also made of how readily DNA content can be used to identify specific pollen species.
Key resultsThe method allowed DNA contents to be quickly found for between 250 and 9391 pollen grains (750-28 173 nuclei) from individual honey-bees and between 81 and 11 512 pollen grains (243-34 537 nuclei) for bumble-bees. It was possible to identify a minimum number of pollen species on each bee and to assign proportions of each pollen type (based on DNA content) present.
ConclusionsThe information provided by this technique is promising but is affected by the complexity of the pollination environment (i.e. number of flowering species present and extent of overlap in DNA content). Nevertheless, it provides a new tool for examining pollinator behaviour and between-species or cytotype pollen transfer, particularly when used in combination with other morphological, chemical or genetic techniques.
SUBMITTER: Kron P