Different rewards in female and male flowers can explain the evolution of sexual dimorphism in plants


E-mail: ahemborg@botzoo.uct.ac.za


Insects use floral signals to find rewards in flowers, transferring pollen in the process. In unisexual plants, the general view is that staminate (male) and pistillate (female) flowers obtain conspecific pollen transfers by advertising their rewards with similar floral signals. For female plants lacking food rewards, this can lead to floral mimicry and pollination by deceit. In this study, we challenge this view by presenting evidence for different rewards offered by flowers on females and males, as a mechanism promoting sexual dimorphism in Leucadendron xanthoconus (Proteaceae), a clearly sexually dimorphic shrub. The tiny beetle pollinators Pria cinerascens (Nitidulidae) depend entirely on the plants they pollinate for survival and reproduction. Male flowers provide mating and egglaying sites, and food for adults and larvae. Female flowers lack nectar and function to shelter pollinators from rain. Their flower heads have cup-shaped display leaves, and are more closed than are those in males. On rainy days, flowers on females received 30% more visits than did flowers on males, and 90% more than they did on sunny days. When we removed display leaves in females, intact flower heads received 14 times more P. cinerascens visits than did manipulated flower heads, indicating that the cup shape attracts the beetles. In both sexes, having many flowers increased the probability of visits and the number of P. cinerascens visiting a plant. In males, the number of larvae was positively correlated with floral-display size, while in females, seed set (pollen transfers) showed no relationship with floral-display size. Ninety-five per cent of the ovules received pollen and 52% matured into seeds. We explain the sexual dimorphism in L. xanthoconus as a result of an intimate partnership with P. cinerascens pollinators, in conjunction with a rainy climate. Pollinators favour large male floral displays, because they offer a reliable food source for adults and larvae. Frequent rains drive the P. cinerascens to leave males in search of the protection offered by females. Because females offer shelter, an essential resource that is not offered by male plants, they receive sufficient pollen independent of their floral-display size. This pollination system promotes the evolution of sexually dimorphic floral signals, guiding pollinators to different rewards in male and female flowers. © 2005 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2005, 85, 97–109.