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Variation in context dependent foraging behavior across pollinators

By Heather M. Briggs, Stuart Graham, Callin M. Switzer, Robin Hopkins

Posted 27 Oct 2017
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/210377 (published DOI: 10.1002/ece3.4303)

Pollinator foraging behavior has direct consequences for plant reproduction and has been implicated in driving floral trait evolution. Exploring the degree to which pollinators exhibit flexibility in foraging behavior will add to a mechanistic understanding of how pollinators can impact selection on plant traits. Although plants have evolved suites of floral traits to attract pollinators, flower color is a particularly important aspect of the floral display. Some pollinators show strong innate color preference, but many pollinators display flexibility in preference due to learning associations between rewards and color, or due to variable perception of color in different environments or plant communities. This study examines the flexibility in flower color preference of two groups of native butterfly pollinators under natural field conditions. Our study reveals that pipevine swallowtails and skippers, the predominate pollinators of the two native Texas Phlox species, display distinct patterns of color preferences across different contexts. Pipevine swallowtails exhibit highly flexible color preferences and likely utilize other floral traits to make foraging decisions. In contrast, skippers have consistent color preferences and likely use flower color as a primary cue for foraging. As a result of this variation in color preference flexibility, the two pollinator groups impose concordant selection on flower color in some contexts but discordant selection in other contexts. This variability could have profound implications for how flower traits respond to pollinator-mediated selection. Our findings suggest that studying dynamics of behavior in natural field conditions is important for understanding plant-pollinator interactions.

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