As it’s my birthday today, I thought I’d reward myself by completing a blog post that I started just after Christmas and never got round to finishing. Review articles that summarise recent developments in a field are an important contribution to the scientific literature that allow us to pause and reflect on where a topic has been and where it is headed. Having recently (co)authored a couple of reviews I can attest that they are useful in this respect for both the writers and for the readers.
In the past couple of years quite a number of critical and timely reviews have been published which are proving very useful to me: I’m currently writing a book and these reviews have been invaluable in summarising aspects of a field that is currently publishing in excess of 1000 research papers per year. So I thought I’d bring them together into a single listing with a short commentary on each. No doubt I have missed many other reviews so please feel free to point out any gaps and I will update the list as I go along.
Each review is hot linked to the source; a good proportion of the reviews are open access, notably those from the recent special issue of Annals of Botany devoted to the ecology and evolution of plant reproduction. Some reviews are very focused, but most are quite broad. Several of these complement one another. I hope you find them interesting and useful.
Mating systems, i.e. who breeds with whom, are just as complex in plants as they are in animals. However some features of seed plants, such as the fact that they don’t move, that most species have both male and female functions, and that their growth is modular and often indeterminate, represent significant challenges that have been overcome in a bewildering variety of ways.
Braun, J. & Lortie, C.J. (2018) Finding the bees knees: A conceptual framework and systematic review of the mechanisms of pollinator-mediated facilitation. Perspectives in Plant Ecology, Evolution and Systematics 36: 33-40
In a community, if one plant species positively affects another, we term this “facilitation”. It can occur at a variety of life stages, including reproduction whereby the presence of one species increase the likelihood of another species being pollinated. This review shows that it occurs fairly frequently at a variety of spatial scales, but there are still significant gaps in our understanding of the phenomenon.
When species provide benefits to one another in two different ways, for example an animal is both a pollinator and a seed disperser of a plant species, we refer to it as a “double mutualism”. As this fascinating review shows, double mutualisms are very uncommon, but they are widespread, and probably under-recorded.
The male aspect of plant reproduction, i.e. pollen donation, is often neglected when we consider how pollination systems evolve. This review provides as up to date account of where we are in understanding how paternity influences floral characters such as shape and colour.
A very broad over view of our current understanding of the biodiversity of pollinators, taking a deep time and a wide spatial perspective to put current concerns about loss of pollinators into a wider perspective.
We often take nectar for granted – it’s just sugar and water, isn’t it? As this review shows, nectar is dynamic and complex, and affects a range of ecological functions beyond just providing pollinators with a reward. However there’s still a huge amount we don’t understand about how nectar traits evolve.
Toledo-Hernández, M., Wangera, T.C. & Tscharntke, T. (2017) Neglected pollinators: Can enhanced pollination services improve cocoa yields? A review. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment 247: 137-148
Chocolate is most people’s favourite confectionery and is famously pollinated only by small midges. Or is it? As this review shows, lots of other insects visit cocoa flowers, but their role as pollinators has not been well studied.
Vizentin-Bugoni J, PKM Maruyama, CS Souza, J Ollerton, AR Rech, M Sazima. (2018) Plant-pollinator networks in the tropics: a review. pp 73-91 In Dáttilo W & V. Rico-Gray. Ecological networks in the Tropics. Springer.
This book chapter that I co-authored with some very energetic and creative young Brazilian researchers summarises what’s currently known about plant-pollinator interaction networks in tropical communities. One of the conclusions is that they are really not so different to those in temperate and subtropical biomes.
A review of how bees use nectar and pollen at the level of both the individual and the colony, focused on the most widespread of pollinator species.
As expected, several people have told me about reviews I’d missed, and in some cases ones that I had read but forgotten about! I’ll list them below, though without annotations:
I had deliberately restricted the reviews to 2017 onwards, but via email David Inouye kindly sent a few older ones through which are equally useful:
A more recent addition to this set of reviews was sent to me by Anne-Laure Jacquemart. Although it’s focused just on one (rather variable) crop, I think it will be really useful for anyone interested in the pollination biology of crop plants: