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A multivariate search for pollination syndromes among penstemons


  • Paul Wilson,

  • Maria Clara Castellanos,

  • James N. Hogue,

  • James D. Thomson,

  • W. Scott Armbruster

P. Wilson and J. N. Hogue, Dept of Biology, California State Univ., Northridge, CA 91330-8303, USA ( – PW; M. C. Castellanos and J. D. Thomson, Dept of Zoology, Univ. of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, M5S 3G5. – MCC and JDT also at: Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, Crested Butte, CO 81224-0519, USA. – W. S. Armbruster, Inst. of Arctic Biology, Univ. of Alaska, Fairbanks, AK 99775-7000, USA and School of Biological Sciences, King Henry I Street, Univ. of Portsmouth, Portsmouth, UK, PO1 2DY.


The seeming ubiquity of spatio-temporal variation in pollination regime suggests that flowers ought to be adapted to a wide range of pollinators, yet many comparative biologists perceive that in groups with complex flowers there is considerable specialization onto pollination syndromes. Statistical documentation of such syndromes has been presented for very few groups of flowers. Accordingly, we measured, for 49 species of Penstemon and close relatives, both the morphology of the flowers and visitation by pollinators. We describe the mechanics of pollination for representative species. Ordinations show a distinct difference between hummingbird-pollinated species and hymenopteran-pollinated species. Flower color is particularly good at separating hummingbird- from hymenopteran-flowers. Other characters are also correlated with this dichotomy. Within the hymenopteran-pollinated species, there are additional relationships between floral morphology and the size of the principal pollinators. Flowers frequented by large bees, such as Xylocopa, have large open vestibules and relatively short floral tubes. Flowers frequented by smaller bees, such as Osmia, have long narrow floral tubes. Unlike nectar-collecting bees, pollen-collecting bees tend to be attracted to flowers of the hummingbird syndrome. The overarching pattern was that syndrome characterizations were successful at predicting pollination by hummingbirds versus Hymenoptera, two types of animals that are profoundly different, but less successful at predicting visitation by one kind of bee versus another.

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