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Joseph_WilliamsAlthough small, pollen grains have a big—but often overlooked—job.

The latest issue of the American Journal of Botany explores new ideas that shed light on the ecology and evolution of pollen. The journal, co-edited by UT’s Joseph Williams, examines the diverse research related to the role of pollen in transferring sperm to eggs in plants. During that process, competition among pollen grains can be intense, and natural and sexual selection can act to screen mutations, ultimately affecting the fitness of the resulting offspring.

Williams, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, wrote the introduction article with co-editor Susan Mazer of the University of California-Santa Barbara. He also authored an article about the economics of pollen competition for the issue.

“Since the 1980s the research community studying pollen evolutionary ecology has become increasingly fragmented, so it was wonderful to bring people together to highlight the diversity of questions being addressed today,” said Williams who researches reproduction and evolution in flowering plants.

The special issue of the journal was born out of Williams’ and Mazer’s desire to address the gap between understanding the importance of pollen-to-plant reproduction and the lack of plentiful research in that area. The duo organized a symposium at a 2014 botany conference that culminated in the recent American Journal of Botany special issue, “The Ecology and Evolution of Pollen Performance.” They found a surprising number of labs around the world interested in pollen evolution from a functional standpoint.

The special issue focuses on the microscopic traits of individual grains and the forces that affect pollen functional biology. It expands the understanding of processes that affect pollen performance such as inbreeding, population density, and disease.

The collection of papers lays out clear examples of how to test these ideas. The researchers said they have the potential to ignite renewed interest, particularly among young researchers.

Learn more about the special issue online.


Lola Alapo (865-974-3993,

Joe Williams (865-974-6202,