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Adaptive plasticity of floral display size in animal-pollinated plants

By Lawrence D Harder and Steven D Johnson


Plants need not participate passively in their own mating, despite their immobility and reliance on pollen vectors. Instead, plants may respond to their recent pollination experience by adjusting the number of flowers that they display simultaneously. Such responsiveness could arise from the dependence of floral display size on the longevity of individual flowers, which varies with pollination rate in many plant species. By hand-pollinating some inflorescences, but not others, we demonstrate plasticity in display size of the orchid Satyrium longicauda. Pollination induced flower wilting, but did not affect the opening of new flowers, so that within a few days pollinated inflorescences displayed fewer flowers than unpollinated inflorescences. During subsequent exposure to intensive natural pollination, pollen removal and receipt increased proportionally with increasing display size, whereas pollen-removal failure and self-pollination accelerated. Such benefit–cost relations allow plants that adjust display size in response to the prevailing pollination rate to increase their attractiveness when pollinators are rare (large displays), or to limit mating costs when pollinators are abundant (small displays). Seen from this perspective, pollination-induced flower wilting serves the entire plant by allowing it to display the number of flowers that is appropriate for the current pollination environment

Topics: Research Article
Publisher: The Royal Society
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Provided by: PubMed Central
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