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Seasonal change in a pollinator community and the maintenance of style length variation in Mertensia fusiformis (Boraginaceae)

Forrest, Jessica R.K., Ogilvie, Jane E., Gorischek, Alex M., Thomson, James D.
Annals of botany 2011 v.108 no.1 pp. 1-12
Mertensia, adaptation, air temperature, corolla, flowering, frost, habitats, perennials, pollen, pollination, pollinators, prediction, risk, seasonal variation, seed set, snowpack, solitary bees, stigma, styles (flowers)
BACKGROUND AND AIMS: In sub-alpine habitats, patchiness in snowpack produces marked, small-scale variation in flowering phenology. Plants in early- and late-melting patches are therefore likely to experience very different conditions during their flowering periods. Mertensia fusiformis is an early-flowering perennial that varies conspicuously in style length within and among populations. The hypothesis that style length represents an adaptation to local flowering time was tested. Specifically, it was hypothesized that lower air temperatures and higher frost risk would favour short-styled plants (with stigmas more shielded by corollas) in early-flowering patches, but that the pollen-collecting behaviour of flower visitors in late-flowering patches would favour long-styled plants. METHODS: Floral morphology was measured, temperatures were monitored and pollinators were observed in several matched pairs of early and late populations. To evaluate effects of cold temperatures on plants of different style lengths, experimental pollinations were conducted during mornings (warm) and evenings (cool), and on flowers that either had or had not experienced a prior frost. The effectiveness of different pollinators was quantified as seed set following single visits to plants with relatively short or long styles. KEY RESULTS: Late-flowering populations experienced warmer temperatures than early-flowering populations and a different suite of pollinators. Nectar-foraging bumble-bee queens and male solitary bees predominated in early populations, whereas pollen-collecting female solitary bees were more numerous in later sites. Pollinators differed significantly in their abilities to transfer pollen to stigmas at different heights, in accordance with our prediction. However, temperature and frost sensitivity did not differ between long- and short-styled plants. Although plants in late-flowering patches tended to have longer styles than those in early patches, this difference was not consistent. CONCLUSIONS: Seasonal change in pollinator-mediated selection on style length may help maintain variation in this trait in M. fusiformis, but adaptation to local flowering time is not apparent. The prevalence of short styles in these populations requires further explanation.