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Ann Bot. 2006 Jan;97(1):141-50. Epub 2005 Nov 18.

Comparison of pollen transfer dynamics by multiple floral visitors: experiments with pollen and fluorescent dye.

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Division of Entomology, Department of Plant, Soil and Insect Science, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA 01003, USA.



Most plant species are visited by a diversity of floral visitors. Pollen transfer of the four most common pollinating bee species and one nectar-robbing bee of the distylous plant Gelsemium sempervirens were compared.


Naturally occurring pollen loads carried by the common floral visitor species of G. sempervirens were compared. In addition, dyed pollen donor flowers and sequences of four emasculated recipient flowers in field cages were used to estimate pollen transfer, and the utility of fluorescent dye powder as an analogue for pollen transfer was determined.


Xylocopa virginica, Osmia lignaria and Habropoda laboriosa carried the most G. sempervirens pollen on their bodies, followed by Bombus bimaculatus and Apis mellifera. However, B. bimaculatus, O. lignaria and H. laboriosa transferred significantly more pollen than A. mellifera. Nectar-robbing X. virginica transferred the least pollen, even when visiting legitimately. Dye particles were strongly correlated with pollen grains on a stigma, and therefore provide a good analogue for pollen in this system. The ratio of pollen : dye across stigmas was not affected by bee species or interactions between bee species and floral morphology. However, dye transfer was more sensitive than pollen transfer to differences in floral morphology.


The results from this study add to a growing body of literature highlighting that floral visitors vary in pollination effectiveness, and that visitors carrying the most pollen on their bodies may not always be the most efficient at depositing pollen on stigmas. Understanding the magnitude of variability in pollinator quality is one important factor for predicting how different pollinator taxa may influence the evolution of floral traits.

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