Authors: Marten-Rodriguez, Silvana; Almarales-Castro, Abel; Fenster, Charles B.
Publication: Journal of Ecology
Year: 2009
Genera: Besleria, Capanea, Columnea, Gesneria, Pheidonocarpa, Rhytidophyllum

1. Current views about the predominance of generalization of pollination systems have stimulated controversy concerning the validity of pollination syndromes. In order to assess the extent to which floral characters reflect selection by the most important pollinators we evaluated pollination syndromes in a florally diverse plant group, the tribe Gesnerieae, a monophyletic plant radiation from the Antillean islands.

2. The study species include representatives of three groups of floral phenotypes, two of which chiefly correspond to ornithophilous and chiropterophilous syndromes. The third group includes subcampanulate flowers (characterized by a corolla constriction above the nectar chamber) with combinations of traits not fitting classic pollination syndromes.

3. Pollination systems were characterized for 19 Gesnerieae species in five Antillean islands between 2003 and 2007 and supplemented with observations of four Gesneriaceae species from Costa Rica. Pollinator visitation and frequency of contact with anthers or stigmas were used to calculate an index of pollinator importance. Eleven floral traits including morphology, phenology and rewards were used to assess clustering patterns in phenotype space.

4. Multidimensional scaling analysis of floral traits resulted in two clusters comprising: (i) tubular, red to yellow‐flowered species with diurnal anthesis, (ii) bell‐shaped‐flowered species; two groups of floral phenotypes were evident within the latter cluster, campanulate nocturnal and subcampanulate flowers. Correlations between pollinator importance values and floral axes revealed strong associations with the expected pollinators, hummingbirds for tubular flowers, and bats for campanulate flowers; subcampanulate‐flowered species had generalized pollination systems including bats, hummingbirds and insects. Discriminant analysis of the multivariate set of floral traits correctly classified 19 out of 23 species into the predicted pollination categories.

5. Synthesis. This study provides support for classic hummingbird and bat pollination syndromes, demonstrating the importance of pollinator‐mediated selection in the floral diversification of Antillean Gesnerieae. However, there was evidence for generalized pollination systems in species characterized by a unique morphological trait (corolla constriction), but with variable combinations of other floral traits. These findings suggests that floral phenotypes might also evolve under selection by various functional groups of pollinators, and underscores the importance of considering the presence and effectiveness of all floral visitors in pollination studies.