- •Transitions from wind pollination to insect pollination were pivotal to the radiation of land plants, yet only a handful are known and the trait shifts required are poorly understood. We tested the hypothesis that a transition to insect pollination took place in the ancestrally wind-pollinated sedges (Cyperaceae) and that floral traits modified during this transition have functional significance.
- •We paired putatively insect-pollinated Cyperus obtusiflorus and Cyperus sphaerocephalus with related, co-flowering, co-occurring wind-pollinated species, and compared pairs in terms of pollination mode and functional roles of floral traits.
- •Experimentally excluding insects reduced seed set by 56–89% in putatively insect-pollinated species but not in intermingled wind-pollinated species. The pollen of putatively insect-pollinated species was less motile in a wind tunnel than that of wind-pollinated species. Bees, beetles and flies preferred inflorescences, and color-matched white or yellow models, of putatively insect-pollinated species over inflorescences, or color-matched brown models, of wind-pollinated species. Floral scents of putatively insect-pollinated species were chemically consistent with those of other insect-pollinated plants, and attracted pollinators; wind-pollinated species were unscented.
- •These results show that a transition from wind pollination to insect pollination occurred in sedges and shed new light on the function of traits involved in this important transition.