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Concept: Pollination syndrome


Pollination by insects is essential to many ecosystems. Previously, we have shown that floral scent is important to mediate pollen transfer between plants (Kessler et al., 2015). Yet, the mechanisms by which pollinators evaluate volatiles of single flowers remained unclear. Here, Nicotiana attenuata plants, in which floral volatiles have been genetically silenced and its hawkmoth pollinator, Manduca sexta, were used in semi-natural tent and wind-tunnel assays to explore the function of floral scent. We found that floral scent not only functions to increase the fitness of individual flowers by increasing detectability but also by enhancing the pollinator’s foraging efforts. Combining proboscis choice tests with neurophysiological, anatomical and molecular analyses we show that this effect is governed by newly discovered olfactory neurons on the tip of the moth’s proboscis. With the tip of their tongue, pollinators assess the advertisement of individual flowers, an ability essential for maintaining this important ecosystem service.

Concepts: Pollination, Flower, Pollinator decline, Pollination syndrome, Lepidoptera, Pollen, Self-pollination, Pollinator


Ecological partnerships, or mutualisms, are globally widespread, sustaining agriculture and biodiversity. Mutualisms evolve through the matching of functional traits between partners, such as tongue length of pollinators and flower tube depth of plants. Long-tongued pollinators specialize on flowers with deep corolla tubes, whereas shorter-tongued pollinators generalize across tube lengths. Losses of functional guilds because of shifts in global climate may disrupt mutualisms and threaten partner species. We found that in two alpine bumble bee species, decreases in tongue length have evolved over 40 years. Co-occurring flowers have not become shallower, nor are small-flowered plants more prolific. We argue that declining floral resources because of warmer summers have favored generalist foraging, leading to a mismatch between shorter-tongued bees and the longer-tubed plants they once pollinated.

Concepts: Symbiosis, Pollination, Flower, Pollinator decline, Pollination syndrome, Bee, Bumblebee, Pollinator


Floral phytochemicals are ubiquitous in nature, and can function both as antimicrobials and as insecticides. Although many phytochemicals act as toxins and deterrents to consumers, the same chemicals may counteract disease and be preferred by infected individuals. The roles of nectar and pollen phytochemicals in pollinator ecology and conservation are complex, with evidence for both toxicity and medicinal effects against parasites. However, it remains unclear how consistent the effects of phytochemicals are across different parasite lineages and environmental conditions, and whether pollinators actively self-medicate with these compounds when infected.

Concepts: Pollination, Flower, Pollinator decline, Pollination syndrome, Pollen, Bee, Bumblebee, Pollinator


Land degradation results in declining biodiversity and the disruption of ecosystem functioning worldwide, particularly in the tropics. Vegetation restoration is a common tool used to mitigate these impacts and increasingly aims to restore ecosystem functions rather than species diversity. However, evidence from community experiments on the effect of restoration practices on ecosystem functions is scarce. Pollination is an important ecosystem function and the global decline in pollinators attenuates the resistance of natural areas and agro-environments to disturbances. Thus, the ability of pollination functions to resist or recover from disturbance (that is, the functional resilience) may be critical for ensuring a successful restoration process. Here we report the use of a community field experiment to investigate the effects of vegetation restoration, specifically the removal of exotic shrubs, on pollination. We analyse 64 plant-pollinator networks and the reproductive performance of the ten most abundant plant species across four restored and four unrestored, disturbed mountaintop communities. Ecosystem restoration resulted in a marked increase in pollinator species, visits to flowers and interaction diversity. Interactions in restored networks were more generalized than in unrestored networks, indicating a higher functional redundancy in restored communities. Shifts in interaction patterns had direct and positive effects on pollination, especially on the relative and total fruit production of native plants. Pollinator limitation was prevalent at unrestored sites only, where the proportion of flowers producing fruit increased with pollinator visitation, approaching the higher levels seen in restored plant communities. Our results show that vegetation restoration can improve pollination, suggesting that the degradation of ecosystem functions is at least partially reversible. The degree of recovery may depend on the state of degradation before restoration intervention and the proximity to pollinator source populations in the surrounding landscape. We demonstrate that network structure is a suitable indicator for pollination quality, highlighting the usefulness of interaction networks in environmental management.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Tropics, Ecosystem, Fruit, Pollination, Pollinator decline, Pollination syndrome, Pollinator


Insect-pollinated carnivorous plants are expected to have higher fitness if they resolve pollinator-prey conflicts by sparing insects pollinating their flowers while trapping prey insects. We examined whether separation between flowers and traps of the carnivorous sundew species or pollinator preferences for colours of flowers enable these plants to spare pollinators. In addition, we collected odours from flowers and traps of each carnivorous species in order to identify volatile chemicals that are attractive or repellent to pollinators and prey insects. In Drosera spatulata and D. arcturi, no volatiles were detected from either their flowers or traps that could serve as kairomone attractants for insects. However, behavioural experiments indicated white colour and spatial separation between flowers and traps aid in reducing pollinator entrapment while capturing prey. In contrast, D. auriculata have flowers that are adjacent to their traps. In this species we identified chemical signals emanating from flowers that comprised an eight-component blend, while the plant’s traps emitted a unique four-component blend. The floral odour attracted both pollinator and prey insects, while trap odour only attracted prey. This is the first scientific report to demonstrate that carnivorous plants utilize visual, spatial, and chemical signals to spare flower visitors while trapping prey insects.

Concepts: Pollination, Flower, Pollinator decline, Pollination syndrome, Pollen, Bee, Carnivorous plant, Drosera


Relationships between flowers and pollinators are generally considered cases of mutualism since both agents gain benefits. Fine-tuned adaptations are usually found in the form of strict one-to-one coevolution between species. Many insect pollinators are, however, considered generalists, visiting numerous kinds of flowers, and many flower species (angiosperms) are also considered generalists, visited by many insect pollinators. We here describe a fine-tuned coevolutionary state of a flower-visiting bee that collects both nectar and pollen from an early spring flower visited by multiple pollinators. Detailed morphology of the bee proboscis is shown to be finely adjusted to the floral morphology and nectar production of the flower. Behavioral observations also confirm the precision of this mutualism. Our results suggest that a fine-tuned one-to-one coevolutionary state between a flower species and a pollinator species might be common, but frequently overlooked, in multiple flower-pollinator interactions.

Concepts: Pollination, Flowering plant, Flower, Pollinator decline, Pollination syndrome, Pollen, Bee, Pollinator


Insect pollinators such as bumblebees (Bombus spp.) are in global decline. A major cause of this decline is habitat loss due to agricultural intensification. A range of global and national initiatives aimed at restoring pollinator habitats and populations have been developed. However, the success of these initiatives depends critically upon understanding how landscape change affects key population-level parameters, such as survival between lifecycle stages, in target species. This knowledge is lacking for bumblebees, because of the difficulty of systematically finding and monitoring colonies in the wild. We used a combination of habitat manipulation, land-use and habitat surveys, molecular genetics and demographic and spatial modelling to analyse between-year survival of family lineages in field populations of three bumblebee species. Here we show that the survival of family lineages from the summer worker to the spring queen stage in the following year increases significantly with the proportion of high-value foraging habitat, including spring floral resources, within 250-1,000 m of the natal colony. This provides evidence for a positive impact of habitat quality on survival and persistence between successive colony cycle stages in bumblebee populations. These findings also support the idea that conservation interventions that increase floral resources at a landscape scale and throughout the season have positive effects on wild pollinators in agricultural landscapes.

Concepts: Honey bee, Pollination, Pollinator decline, Pollination syndrome, Bee, Bumblebee, Pollinator


There is considerable concern over declines in insect pollinator communities and potential impacts on the pollination of crops and wildflowers. Among the multiple pressures facing pollinators, decreasing floral resources due to habitat loss and degradation has been suggested as a key contributing factor. However, a lack of quantitative data has hampered testing for historical changes in floral resources. Here we show that overall floral rewards can be estimated at a national scale by combining vegetation surveys and direct nectar measurements. We find evidence for substantial losses in nectar resources in England and Wales between the 1930s and 1970s; however, total nectar provision in Great Britain as a whole had stabilized by 1978, and increased from 1998 to 2007. These findings concur with trends in pollinator diversity, which declined in the mid-twentieth century but stabilized more recently. The diversity of nectar sources declined from 1978 to 1990 and thereafter in some habitats, with four plant species accounting for over 50% of national nectar provision in 2007. Calcareous grassland, broadleaved woodland and neutral grassland are the habitats that produce the greatest amount of nectar per unit area from the most diverse sources, whereas arable land is the poorest with respect to amount of nectar per unit area and diversity of nectar sources. Although agri-environment schemes add resources to arable landscapes, their national contribution is low. Owing to their large area, improved grasslands could add substantially to national nectar provision if they were managed to increase floral resource provision. This national-scale assessment of floral resource provision affords new insights into the links between plant and pollinator declines, and offers considerable opportunities for conservation.

Concepts: Agriculture, Natural resource, Pollination, Pollinator decline, Pollination syndrome, Pollen, Wales, Agricultural land


Recently there has been increasing focus on monitoring pollinating insects, due to concerns about their declines, and interest in the role of volunteers in monitoring pollinators, particularly bumblebees, via citizen science.

Concepts: Pollination, Pollinator decline, Pollination syndrome, Bee, Bumblebee, Pollinator


Flowers use olfactory and visual signals to communicate with pollinators. Disentangling the relative contributions and potential synergies between signals remains a challenge. Understanding the perceptual biases exploited by floral mimicry illuminates the evolution of these signals. Here, we disentangle the olfactory and visual components of Dracula lafleurii, which mimics mushrooms in size, shape, color and scent, and is pollinated by mushroom-associated flies. To decouple signals, we used three-dimensional printing to produce realistic artificial flower molds that were color matched and cast using scent-free surgical silicone, to which we could add scent. We used GC-MS to measure scents in co-occurring mushrooms, and related orchids, and used these scents in field experiments. By combining silicone flower parts with real floral organs, we created chimeras that identified the mushroom-like labellum as a source of volatile attraction. In addition, we showed remarkable overlap in the volatile chemistry between D. lafleurii and co-occurring mushrooms. The characters defining the genus Dracula - a mushroom-like, ‘gilled’ labellum and a showy, patterned calyx - enhance pollinator attraction by exploiting the visual and chemosensory perceptual biases of drosophilid flies. Our techniques for the manipulation of complex traits in a nonmodel system not conducive to gene silencing or selective breeding are useful for other systems.

Concepts: Mimicry, Pollination, Flower, Pollinator decline, Pollination syndrome, Pollen, Plant sexuality, Self-pollination