The influence of distinct pollinators on female and male reproductive success in the Rocky Mountain columbine


  • Johanne Brunet is a research ecologist with the United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, and assistant professor in the department of Horticulture at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. She is an evolutionary biologist currently working on the impact of insect pollinators on gene flow. Karsten Holmquist is a postdoctoral associate with the USDA-ARS at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. He is an evolutionary biologist interested in pollinators and gene flow.

Johanne Brunet, Fax: (608) 262-4743; E-mail: or


Although there are many reasons to expect distinct pollinator types to differentially affect a plant’s reproductive success, few studies have directly examined this question. Here, we contrast the impact of two kinds of pollinators on reproductive success via male and female functions in the Rocky Mountain columbine, Aquilegia coerulea. We set up pollinator exclusion treatments in each of three patches where Aquilegia plants were visited by either day pollinators (majority bumble bees), by evening pollinators (hawkmoths), or by both (control). Day pollinators collected pollen and groomed, whereas evening pollinators collected nectar but did not groom. Maternal parents, potential fathers and progeny arrays were genotyped at five microsatellite loci. We estimated female outcrossing rate and counted seeds to measure female reproductive success and used paternity analysis to determine male reproductive success. Our results document that bumble bees frequently moved pollen among patches of plants and that, unlike hawkmoths, pollen moved by bumble bees sired more outcrossed seeds when it remained within a patch as opposed to moving between patches. Pollinator type differentially affected the outcrossing rate but not seed set, the number of outcrossed seeds or overall male reproductive success. Multiple visits to a plant and more frequent visits by bumble bees could help to explain the lack of impact of pollinator type on overall reproductive success. The increase in selfing rate with hawkmoths likely resulted from the abundant pollen available in experimental flowers. Our findings highlighted a new type of pollinator interactions that can benefit a plant species.