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Am Nat. 2008 Jan;171(1):119-24. doi: 10.1086/523953.

Multifunctional bracts in the dove tree Davidia involucrata (Nyssaceae: Cornales): rain protection and pollinator attraction.

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  • 1College of Life Sciences, Wuhan University, Wuhan 430072, China.


Although there has been much experimental work on floral traits that are under selection from mutualists and antagonists, selection by abiotic environmental factors on flowers has been largely ignored. Here we test whether pollen susceptibility to rain damage could have played a role in the evolution of the reproductive architecture of Davidia involucrata, an endemic in the mountains of western China. Flowers in this tree species lack a perianth and are arranged in capitula surrounded by large (up to 10 cm x 5 cm) bracts that at anthesis turn from green to white, losing their photosynthetic capability. Flowers are nectarless, and pollen grains are presented on the recurved anther walls for 5-7 days. Flower visitors, and likely pollinators, were mainly pollen-collecting bees from the genera Apis, Xylocopa, Halictus, and Lasioglossum. Capitula with natural or white paper bracts attracted significantly more bees per hour than capitula that had their bracts removed or replaced by green paper. Experimental immersion of pollen grains in water resulted in rapid loss of viability, and capitula with bracts lost less pollen to rain than did capitula that had their bracts removed, suggesting that the bracts protect the pollen from rain damage as well as attracting pollinators.

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