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Flower color influences insect visitation in alpine New Zealand

Campbell, Diane R., Bischoff, Mascha, Lord, Janice M., Robertson, Alastair W.
Ecology 2010 v.91 no.9 pp. 2638-2649
Hylaeus, Leioproctus, Syrphidae, color, corolla, pollinating insects, reflectance, solitary bees, New Zealand
Despite a long‐standing belief that insect pollinators can select for certain flower colors, there are few experimental demonstrations that free‐flying insects choose between natural flowers based on color. We investigated responses of insect visitors to experimental manipulations of flower color in the New Zealand alpine. Native syrphid flies (Allograpta and Platycheirus) and solitary bees (Hylaeus and Leioproctus) showed distinct preferences for visiting certain flower species. These responses were determined, in part, by flower color, as insects also responded to experimental manipulations of visible petal color in 7 out of 11 tests with different combinations of flower species and insect type. When preferences were detected, syrphid flies chose yellow over white petals regardless of flower species, whereas Hylaeus chose white over yellow Ourisia glandulosa. In some cases, the strength and direction of color preference depended on the context of other floral traits, in which case the response usually favored the familiar, normal combination of traits. Syrphid flies also visited in response to floral morphological traits but did not show preference based on UV reflectance. The unusually high preponderance of white flowers in the New Zealand alpine is not explained by complete generalization of flower color choice. Instead, the insect visitors show preferences based on color, including colors other than white, along with other floral traits. Furthermore, they can respond in complex ways to combinations of floral cues, suggesting that traits may act in nonadditive ways in determining pollinator visitation.