Variable pollen viability and effects of pollen load size on components of seed set in cultivars and feral populations of oilseed rape.
Pollination success is important for crop yield, but may be cultivar dependent. Less is known about which floral traits influence pollination success. Floral traits, e.g. traits related to attraction and reward, can also contribute to gene flow via pollen, the latter being of particular importance in oilseed rape (Brassica napus) where gene flow occurs between plants of crop, volunteer and feral origin as well as related taxa. We investigated the relationship between pollen load size and seed set in winter oilseed rape. We compared variability in pollen-viability traits, flower production (flowers from the main raceme times number of branches) and seed number and weight per siliqua among cultivars and feral populations (growing outside of agricultural fields) under controlled conditions. Both seed number and weight were saturated at relatively low pollen loads in the tested cultivar. Pollen viability and estimated flower production differed among cultivars, indicating that these traits could contribute to yield variability. Seed weight per siliqua, but not pollen traits or flower production, was lower in ferals compared to cultivars. Thus, while the probability of establishment may be reduced in ferals (due to lower seed weight per siliqua) this will not necessarily impact their contribution to gene flow via pollen. In oilseed rape a relatively low pollen load may be sufficient for full seed set in some cultivars, suggesting less dependence on insect pollination for high yield than generally expected. Our results also showed that previously less investigated floral traits, such as pollen viability, pollen tube growth rate and flower number, can differ between cultivars. Studies of these traits may provide targets for increasing crop yield and provide general knowledge about gene flow between cultivated, feral and related wild populations.