Climate change is expected to alter patterns of species co-occurrence, in both space and time. Species-specific shifts in reproductive phenology may alter the assemblages of plant species in flower at any given time during the growing season. Temporal overlap in the flowering periods (co-flowering) of animal-pollinated species may influence reproductive success if competitive or facilitative interactions between plant species affect pollinator services. We used a 33-year data set on flowering ph
enology in subalpine meadows in Colorado, USA, to determine whether interannual variation in snowmelt date, which marks the start of the growing season, affected co-flowering patterns. For two of four species considered, we found a significant relationship between snowmelt timing and composition of the assemblage of co-flowering plants. In years of early snowmelt, Lathyrus lanszwertii var. leucanthus (Fabaceae), the species we investigated in most detail, tended to overlap with earlier-flowering species and with fewer species overall. In particular, overlap with the flowering period of Lupinus polyphyllus var. prunophilus, with which Lathyrus leucanthus shares pollinators, was significantly reduced in early-snowmelt years. The observed association between timing of snowmelt and patterns of flowering overlap could not have been predicted simply by examining temporal trends in the dates of peak flowering of the dominant species in the community, as peak flowering dates have largely shifted in parallel with respect to snowmelt date. However, subtle interspecific differences in responsiveness of flowering time, duration, and intensity to interannual climate variation have likely contributed to the observed relationship. Although much of the year-to-year variation in flowering overlap remains unexplained by snowmelt date, our finding of a measurable signal of climate variation suggests that future climate change may lead to altered competitive environments for these wildflower species.
Climate change is causing many plants to flower earlier in spring, exposing them to novel selection pressures, including—potentially—pollinator shortages. Over 2 years that contrasted in timing of flowering onset, we studied reproductive strategies, pollen limitation, and selection on flowering time in Mertensia fusiformis, a self-incompatible, spring-flowering perennial. Plants opened most of their flowers early in the flowering period, especially in 2007, the early year; but selection favored
early-flowering individuals only in 2008. However, resource allocation to early vs. late seed production was flexible: In 2008, but not 2007, early flowers on a plant produced more and heavier seeds. Late flowers were capable of equal seed production if fertilization of early ovules was prevented, suggesting that late flowers serve a bet-hedging function. Evidence for pollen limitation was weak, although there was a tendency for early flowers to be pollen-limited in 2007 and for late flowers to be pollen-limited in 2008. Poor reproductive success in 2007 was likely attributable less to pollen limitation than to frost damage to flowers. We suggest that plasticity in floral longevity and resource allocation among flowers will make this species resilient to short-term pollinator deficits; whether this will help or hinder future adaptation is unclear.
Bilateral symmetry has evolved from radial symmetry in several floral lineages, and multiple hypotheses have been proposed to account for the success of this floral plan. One of these hypotheses posits that bilateral symmetry (or, more generally, a reduced number of planes of floral symmetry) allows for more precise pollen placement on pollinators. Greater precision would maximize the efficacy of pollen transfer to conspecifics, while minimizing reproductive interference amongst plant species. D
espite the intuitiveness of this hypothesis, it has little experimental support. Here, we tested whether a reduction in the number of floral planes of symmetry (as in the transition from radial to bilateral symmetry) increases the potential precision of pollen placement. We analyzed video recordings of bumblebees ( Bombus impatiens ) visiting artificial flowers to determine whether consistency in flower entry angle differed between radial (round) and disymmetric (rectangular) “flowers”. We observed more consistent entry angles for disymmetric flowers than for radial flowers, with entry angles to radial flowers 43% more variable on average (standard deviations of 30° vs. 21°). Bees trained on flowers with an intermediate (square) morphology exhibited a slight, non-significant preference for radial symmetry over disymmetry. Our results show that disymmetry—an evolutionarily intermediate form of floral symmetry—has the potential to increase pollen transfer to conspecific stigmas, relative to radial symmetry. Thus, evolutionary reduction in the number of planes of floral symmetry likely provides benefits in terms of pollen delivery, as suggested by the pollen-placement-accuracy hypothesis. These findings offer insight into the evolution of floral symmetry.
The pollen deposited during a single visit by a flower visitor (“single-visit deposition”; SVD) is often measured by removing the stigma from the flower and counting the pollen grains deposited under a microscope. This process precludes study of any subsequent interactions between the flower and later visitors (such as pollen removal from the stigma). Furthermore, if the stigma is excised too soon after the pollinator visit, the flower may be rendered infertile, such that any analyses of fruit o
r seed yield in relation to pollen deposition must be done indirectly. Here, a method of pollen deposition measurement was developed using macro photography and the open-source image-analysis software program ImageJ/Fiji. Using colour segmentation options within the program, the pollen grains can be distinguished from the background stigmatic surface, and the percentage of stigma coverage can be calculated. This pollen deposition measurement method leaves the sampled flower in the field to develop into fruit, allowing any subsequent yield or quality analyses to be conducted directly.