Yield and productivity of many crop species depend on successful reproductive development to produce seeds or fruits for human nutrition. Plants determine the right time to flower based on environmental cues (day length, temperature) and angiosperms have evolved a plethora of mechanisms to adapt flowering to specific environmental conditions. Despite these adaptation mechanisms, fertilisation and seed production remain subject to the reigning weather conditions before and during flowering. To fertilise the immobile female gametes inside the ovule, the male gametophytes need to be dispersed in a hostile environment. In crop plants, unexpected inclement weather conditions during male gametophyte development and pollen dispersal are often associated with dramatic yield losses. Molecular and physiological studies are gradually making progress in identifying genes and processes that control various aspects of pollen development, but the many intricacies involved in environmental control of pollen development and – in particular – regulation of male fertility remain poorly understood. The aim of this paper is to draw attention to the enormous amount of complexity and biodiversity that exist in angiosperm male gametophyte development. A better understanding of the strategies that exist in adapting pollen production and fertility to environmental challenges may ultimately benefit improvement of abiotic stress tolerance in major food crops.
Part of the book: Abiotic and Biotic Stress in Plants