Sunflower spines and beyond: Mechanisms and breadth of pollen that reduce gut pathogen infection in the common eastern bumble bee
Figueroa, L. L., Fowler, A., Lopez, S., Amaral, V. E., Koch, H., Stevenson, P. C., … Adler, L. S. (2023, April 4). FUNCTIONAL ECOLOGY.
Abstract Plants have unique chemical and physical traits that can reduce infections in animals ranging from primates to caterpillars. Sunflowers ( Helianthus annuus ; Asteraceae) are one striking example, with pollen that suppresses infections by the trypanosomatid gut pathogen Crithidia bombi in the common eastern bumble bee ( Bombus impatiens ). However, the mechanism underlying this effect has remained elusive, and we do not know whether pollens from other Asteraceae species have similar effects. We evaluated whether mechanisms mediating sunflower pollen's antipathogenic effects are physical (due to its spiny exine), chemical (due to metabolites) or both. We also evaluated the degree to which pollen from seven other Asteraceae species reduced C. bombi infection relative to pollen from sunflower and two non‐Asteraceae species, and whether pollen spine length predicted pathogen suppression. We found that sunflower exines alone reduced infection as effectively as whole sunflower pollen, while sunflower pollen metabolites did not. Furthermore, bees fed pollen from four of seven other Asteraceae had 62%–92% lower C. bombi infections than those fed non‐Asteraceae pollen. Spine length, however, did not explain variation in bumble bee infection. Our study indicates that sunflower pollen's capacity to suppress C. bombi is driven by its spiny exine, and that this phenomenon extends to several other Asteraceae species. Our results indicate that sunflower pollen exines are as effective as whole pollen in reducing infection, suggesting that future studies should expand to assess the effects of other species with spiny pollen on pollinator–pathogen dynamics. Read the free Plain Language Summary for this article on the Journal blog.