Pollination is a fundamental process in plant biology describing the transfer of pollen from the male to female parts of the plant. In out-crossing plant species this pollen transfer is difficult, often requiring the movement of pollen between plants sometimes across great distances. Plants have evolved a large array of different strategies to overcome these physical barriers using either abiotic or biotic mechanisms such as wind, rain or insects to mobilize pollen. Many of these pollination strategies are affected by external environmental conditions such as seasonal changes and fluctuations in ambient temperature. A second dilemma faced by out-crossing plants is how to limit self-pollination; very often this is achieved by offsetting the maturation timing of the male and female floral organs. Currently there is little information on how plants regulate the timing of floral organ maturation or on how plants perceive changes in the environment and what implications climate change may have on these precisely timed mechanisms or pollination strategies.
The Crop Floral Biology team aims to combine molecular techniques with detailed physiological measurements and time-lapse photography to investigate how changing environments affect plant and flower development, flower physiology, flower health and pollinator visits. We follow these flowers from bud opening to seed development to assess the impact of these weather conditions on plant reproduction and potentially crop yield.
We currently have three big collaborative interdisciplinary projects we are working on in collaboration with UFS, ARC and the Department of Geography at UP:
1. The effects of a changing environment and late-planting dates on maize plant development and yield in South Africa
- Funded by Maize Trust and DSI through the GrainSA cooperation
2. The impact of heat stress on floral organ development at the physiological and molecular level during anthesis in domesticated sunflower
- Funded by NRF-Thuthuka
3. Assessing the effect of planting date and environment on sunflower development, Sclerotinia head rot and yield
- Funded by OAC/OPDT