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Am Nat. 2007 Oct;170(4):551-66. Epub 2007 Aug 9.

The birds, the bees, and the virtual flowers: can pollinator behavior drive ecological speciation in flowering plants?

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  • 1Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Toronto, 25 Harbord Street, Toronto, Ontario M5S 3G5, Canada. robert.gegear@umassmed.edu

Abstract

Biologists have long assumed that pollinator behavior is an important force in angiosperm speciation, yet there is surprisingly little direct evidence that floral preferences in pollinators can drive floral divergence and the evolution of reproductive (ethological) isolation between incipient plant species. In this study, we expose computer-generated plant populations with a wide variation in flower color to selection by live and virtual hummingbirds and bumblebees and track evolutionary changes in flower color over multiple generations. Flower color, which was derived from the known genetic architecture and phenotypic variance of naturally occurring plant species pollinated by both groups, evolved in simulations through a genetic algorithm in which pollinator preference determined changes in flower color between generations. The observed preferences of live hummingbirds and bumblebees were strong enough to cause adaptive divergence in flower color between plant populations but did not lead to ethological isolation. However, stronger preferences assigned to virtual pollinators in sympatric and allopatric scenarios rapidly produced ethological isolation. Pollinators can thus drive ecological speciation in flowering plants, but more rigorous and comprehensive behavioral studies are required to specify conditions that produce sufficient preference levels in pollinators.

PMID:
17891734
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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