Seed size, pollination costs and angiosperm success

David Haig*, Mark Westoby

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Citations (Scopus)


Seed plants capture pollen before seeds are dispersed and abort unpollinated ovules. As a result, each seed is associated with an accessory cost that represents the costs of pollen capture and the costs of aborted ovules. Accessory costs may explain the minimum seed size among species, because these costs are likely to comprise a greater proportion of total reproductive allocation in species with smaller seeds. For very small propagules, the costs of pollination may not be worth the benefits, perhaps explaining the persistence of pteridophytic reproduction at small propagule sizes. The smallest angiosperm seeds are much smaller than the smallest gymnosperm seeds, both in the fossil record and in the modern flora. This suggests that angiosperms can produce pollinated ovules more cheaply than gymnosperms. Pollination becomes less efficient as a species decreases in abundance, and this loss of efficiency is greater for species with a higher accessory cost per seed. We propose that the greater reproductive efficiency of angiosperms when rare can explain why angiosperm-dominated floras were more speciose than the gymnosperm-dominated floras they replaced.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)231-247
Number of pages17
JournalEvolutionary Ecology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jul 1991


  • Angiosperms
  • pollination
  • seed size

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