Intraspecific variation in the petal epidermal cell morphology of Vicia faba L. (Fabaceae).
At a microscopic scale, the shape and fine cell relief of the petal epidermal cells of a flower play a key role in its interaction with pollinators. In particular, conical shaped petal epidermal cells have been shown to have an important function in providing grip on the surface of bee-pollinated flowers and can influence bee visitation rates. Previous studies have explored interspecific variation in this trait within genera and families, but naturally-occurring intraspecific variation has not yet been comprehensively studied. Here, we investigate petal epidermal cell morphology in 32 genotypes of the crop Vicia faba, which has a yield highly dependent on pollinators. We hypothesise that conical cells may have been lost in some genotypes as a consequence of selective sweeps or genetic drift during breeding programmes. We find that 13% of our lines have a distribution of conical petal epidermal cells that deviates from that normally seen in V. faba flowers. These abnormal phenotypes were specific to the ad/abaxial side of petals, suggesting that these changes are the result of altered gene expression patterns rather than loss of gene function.