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Pseudonectaries: more than cheating
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Mimicry is an important deceptive strategy that plants use to attract their pollinators. Pseudonectaries, or false nectaries, the glistening structures that mimic nectaries or nectar droplets but do not secrete nectar, show considerable diversity and play important roles in plant-animal interactions. The morphological nature and ecological functions of pseudonectaries, however, remain largely unclear.

In a new study published in Nature Communications on April 14, a research team led by Professor KONG Hongzhi from the Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences (IBCAS), has made advances in understanding the morphological nature, optical features, developmental process, molecular underpinnings and ecological functions of pseudonectaries.

By using Nigella damascena as a model, the research team found that pseudonectaries of N. damascena are quite different from nectaries in various aspects. Specifically, pseudonectaries are tiny regional protrusions covered by tightly arranged, non-secretory polygonal epidermal cells with flat, smooth and reflective surface, and are clearly visible even under ultraviolet light and bee vision.

The researchers also found that genes associated with cell division, chloroplast development and wax formation are preferably expressed in pseudonectaries. Specifically, NidaYABBY5, an abaxial gene with ectopic expression in pseudonectaries, is indispensable for pseudonectary development: knockdown of it led to complete losses of pseudonectaries.

Notably, when flowers without pseudonectaries were arrayed beside those with pseudonectaries, clear differences were observed in the visiting frequency, probing time and visiting behavior of pollinators (i.e., honey bees), suggesting that pseudonectaries serve as both visual attractants and nectar guides.

Collectively, this study not only provides the first comprehensive portrait of pseudonectaries, but also clarifies the differences between pseudonectaries and nectaries.
This research was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China and the grants from CAS.

The optical properties and ecological function of pseudonectaries (Image by IBCAS)

Articlelink: DOI: 10.1038/s41467-020-15658-2 

Contact: Email: hzkong@ibcas.ac.cn
Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences



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