The dual role of floral traits: Pollinator attraction and plant defense


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Ecological Society of America


Plants are under siege from a diversity of enemies that consume both leaf and floral parts. Plants resist damage to leaves in a variety of ways, and we now have a rich literature documenting how plants defend themselves against herbivore attack. In contrast, the mechanisms by which plants resist enemies that consume floral parts or resources are much less known, even though damage to floral tissue usually has tighter links to plant fitness than damage to leaf tissue. Many plants experience nectar robbing, whereby floral visitors remove nectar from flowers, often without pollinating. Nectar robbers can reduce plant fitness to degrees comparable to, or even surpassing, reduction by herbivores. However, because nectar attracts both pollinators and nectar robbers, plants face a dilemma in defending against nectar robbers without also deterring pollinators. Here, we extend the conceptual framework of resistance to herbivores to include resistance to nectar robbers, focusing on nectar traits. We review published data and find that an array of nectar traits may deter robbers without deterring pollinators. Although resistance traits against robbers have been broadly identified, the costs and benefits of these traits in terms of plant fitness remain poorly understood. We present data showing that a nectar trait (dilute nectar) might directly, as well as indirectly, benefit plant fitness by deterring nectar-robbing bumble bees of Ipomopsis aggregata without deterring hummingbird pollinators. However, the magnitude of any plant fitness benefit will depend on the degree to which plants are pollen- vs. resource-limited in a given year. The results of our work offer both conceptual and empirical insight into how plants cope with attack by nonpollinating floral visitors through a relatively unexplored trait, nectar.



Bombus occidentalis, humble bee, herbivory, Ipomopsis aggregata, nectar, concentration, nectar robbing, plant dejense, pollination, resistance, ipomopsis-aggregata polemoniaceae, induced resistance, catalpa-speciosa, nectar thieves, scarlet-gilia, toxic nectar, herbivory, fitness, hummingbird, evolution, Environmental Sciences & Ecology


Rebecca E. Irwin, Lynn S. Adler, and Alison K. Brody 2004. THE DUAL ROLE OF FLORAL TRAITS: POLLINATOR ATTRACTION AND PLANT DEFENSE. Ecology 85:1503–1511.