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Risk-averse inflorescence departure in hummingbirds and bumble bees: could plants benefit from variable nectar volumes?


  • Jay M. Biernaskie,

  • Ralph V. Cartar,

  • T. Andrew Hurly

J. M. Biernaskie, R. V. Cartar and T. A. Hurly, Dept of Biological Sciences, Univ. of Lethbridge, AB, Canada T1K 3M4 ( Present address of JMB, Dept of Biological Sciences, Simon Fraser Univ., Burnaby, BC, Canada V5A 1S6.


Most hermaphroditic, many-flowered plants should suffer reduced fitness from within-plant selfing (geitonogamy). Large inflorescences are most attractive to pollinators, but also promote many flower visits during a single plant visit, which may increase selfing and decrease pollen export. A plant might avoid the negative consequences of attractiveness through modification of the floral display to promote fewer flower visits, while retaining attractiveness. This report shows that increasing only the variance in nectar volume per flower results in fewer flower visits per inflorescence by wild hummingbirds (Selasphorus rufus) and captive bumble bees (Bombus flavifrons) foraging on artificial inflorescences. Inflorescences were either constant (all flowers contained the same nectar volume) or variable (half the flowers were empty, the other half contained twice as much nectar as in the constant flowers). Both types of inflorescence were simultaneously available to foragers. Risk-averse foraging behaviour was expressed as a patch departure preference: birds and bees visited fewer flowers on variable inflorescences, and this preference was expressed when resource variability could be determined only by concurrent sampling. When variance treatments were clearly labelled with colour and offered to hummingbirds, the departure effect was maintained; however, when preference was measured by inflorescence choice, birds did not consistently prefer to visit constant inflorescences. The reduced visitation lengths on variable inflorescences by both birds and bees documented in this study imply that variance in nectar production rates within inflorescences may represent an adaptive trait to avoid the costs of geitonogamy.