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Floral symmetry is associated with flower size and pollen production but not insect visitation rates in Geranium robertianum (Geraniaceae)

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Abstract

The degree to which fine-scaled variation in floral symmetry is associated with variation in plant fitness remains unresolved, as does the question of whether floral symmetry is in itself a target of pollinator-mediated selection. Geranium robertianum (Geraniaceae) is a broadly distributed species whose five-petaled flowers vary widely with respect to their degree of rotational asymmetry. In this study, we used a naturally occurring population of plants to investigate whether floral rotational asymmetry and leaf bilateral symmetry were phenotypically correlated with a series of fitness-related traits, and also used an experimental array with model flowers to investigate the preference of insect visitors for varying degrees of floral size and symmetry. We found that leaf asymmetry was not associated with any of the phenotypic traits measured, and that the degree of floral rotational asymmetry was strongly associated with decreased flower size and decreased pollen production. Our experimental arrays showed that insect visitors did not discriminate among model flowers on the basis of size or symmetry alone; however, insect visitors preferentially visited smaller, symmetric model flowers over larger, severely asymmetric model flowers. Taken together, our results suggest that floral and leaf symmetry in G. robertianum are not likely strong indicators of phenotypic quality, and that floral symmetry is unlikely to be a target of pollinator-mediated selection. However, the relationship between floral asymmetry and pollen production may provide a role for fecundity selection on symmetry in this species. These data importantly add to the growing literature on the adaptive nature of floral symmetry in the wild.

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