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Keywords:

  • Floral display;
  • flower colour;
  • fluorescent dye;
  • fruit production;
  • insect pollination;
  • pollen dispersal;
  • spectral reflectance analysis

Abstract

Investigating plant–pollinator interactions and pollen dispersal are particularly relevant for understanding processes ensuring long-term viability of fragmented plant populations. Pollen dispersal patterns may vary strongly, even between similar congeneric species, depending on the mating system, pollinator assemblages and floral traits. We investigated pollen dispersal and fruit production in a population of Vaccinium oxycoccos, an insect-pollinated shrub, and compared the pollen dispersal pattern with a co-flowering, sympatric congener, V. uliginosum. We examined whether they share pollinators (through interspecific fluorescent dye transfers) and may differently attract pollinators, by comparing their floral colour as perceived by insects. Fluorescent dyes were mainly dispersed over short distances (80% within 40.4 m (max. 94.5 m) for V. oxycoccos and 3.0 m (max. 141.3 m) for V. uliginosum). Dye dispersal in V. oxycoccos was not significantly affected by plant area, floral display or the proximity to V. uliginosum plants. Interspecific dye transfers were observed, indicating pollinator sharing. The significantly lower dye deposition on V. oxycoccos stigmas suggests lower visitation rates by pollinators, despite higher flower density and local abundance. The spectral reflectance analysis indicates that bees are unlikely to be able to discriminate between the two species based on floral colour alone. Fruit production increased with increasing floral display, but was not affected by proximity to V. uliginosum plants. Our study highlights that fragmented populations of V. oxycoccos, when sympatric with co-flowering V. uliginosum, might incur increased competition for the shared pollinators in the case of pollination disruption, which might then reduce outcrossed seed set.