GRE Reading Comprehension

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Source: XDF

Traditionally, pollination by wind has been viewed as a reproductive process marked by random events in which the vagaries of the wind are compensated for by the generation of vast quantities of pollen, so that the ultimate production of new seeds is assured at the expense of producing much more pollen than is actually used. Because the potential hazards pollen grains are subject to as they are transported over long distances are enormous, wind-pollinated plants have, in the view above, compensated for the ensuing loss of pollen through happenstance by virtue of producing an amount of pollen that is one to three orders of magnitude greater than the amount produced by species pollinated by insects.

However, a number of features that are characteristic of wind-pollinated plants reduce pollen waste. For example, many wind-pollinated species fail to release pollen when wind speeds are low or when humid conditions prevail. Recent studies suggest another way in which species compensate for the inefficiency of wind pollination. These studies suggest that species frequently take advantage of the physics of pollen motion by generating specific aerodynamic environments within the immediate vicinity of their female reproductive organs. It is the morphology of these organs that dictates the pattern of airflow disturbances through which pollen must travel. The speed and direction of the airflow disturbances can combine with the physical properties of a species' pollen to produce a species-specific pattern of pollen collision on the surfaces of female reproductive organs. Provided that these surfaces are strategically located, the consequences of this combination can significantly increase the pollen-capture efficiency of a female reproductive organ.

A critical question that remains to be answered is whether the morphological attributes of the female reproductive organs of wind-pollinated species are evolutionary adaptations to wind pollination or are merely fortuitous. A complete resolution of the question is as yet impossible since adaptation must be evaluated for each species within its own unique functional context. However, it must be said that, while evidence of such evolutionary adaptations does exist in some species, one must be careful about attributing morphology to adaptation. For example, the spiral arrangement of scale-bract complexes on ovule-bearing pine cones, where the female reproductive organs of conifers are located, is important to the production of airflow patterns that spiral over the cone's surfaces, thereby passing airborne pollen from one scale to the next. However, these patterns cannot be viewed as an adaptation to wind pollination because the spiral arrangement occurs in a number of non-wind-pollinated plant lineages and is regarded as a characteristic of vascular plants, of which conifers are only one kind, as a whole. Therefore, the spiral arrangement is not likely to be the result of a direct adaptation to wind pollination.

Question List: 1 2 3 4

The author of the passage is primarily concerned with discussing

  • A the current debate on whether the morphological attributes of wind-pollinated plants are evolutionary adaptations
  • B the kinds of airflow patterns that permit wind-pollinated plants to capture pollen most efficiently
  • C the ways in which the reproductive processes of wind-pollinated plants are controlled by random events
  • D a recently proposed explanation of a way in which wind-pollinated plants reduce pollen waste
  • E a specific morphological attribute that permits one species of wind-pollinated plant to capture pollen

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