Variability in Nectar Production and Yield, and their Relation to Pollinator Visits, in a Mediterranean Shrub

Tamar Keasar, Adi Sadeh and Avi Shmida

Nectar yields (standing crops) in flowers within an individual plant are often highly variable. This variability may be a by-product of the foraging activity of insect pollinators. Alternatively, plants may be selected to produce highly variable rewards to reduce consecutive visitation by risk-averse pollinators, thus diminishing within-plant pollen transfer. This study evaluated the roles of pollinator control vs. plant control over nectar variability in the bee-pollinated shrub Rosmarinus officinalis L. We sampled nectar production, yield and pollinator visits in three shrubs of one population over 17 days during one blooming season. Nectar production rates were highly variable (CV=1.48), and increased after rainy days. Nectar yields were even more variable (CV=2.16), and decreased with increasing temperatures. Pollinator visit rates decreased with variability in nectar yields, increased with flower number per shrub, and were unaffected by variability in nectar production rates. Repeated sampling of marked flowers revealed no correlation between their nectar yields and production rates. These findings support the role of reward variance in reducing pollinator visits, but suggest that plants are not in complete control of this variability. Rather, plant-generated variability can be modified by intensive foraging activity of pollinators. Such pollinator control over nectar variability is likely to reduce the selective advantage of plant-generated reward variation. Plant-controlled variability may provide evolutionary advantage when pollinator activity is insufficient to generate reward variation.

July, 2007
Published in: 
Arthropod Plant interactions 2 (2008), 117-123