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Spatial pattern of floral morphology: possible insight into the effects of pollinators on plant distributions


L. Pellissier, Dept of Ecology and Evolution, Univ. of Lausanne, Bâtiment Biophore, CH–1015 Lausanne, Switzerland. E-mail:


Pollination syndromes involve convergent evolution towards phenotypes composed of specific scents, colours or floral morphologies that attract or restrict pollinator access to reward. How these traits might influence the distributions of plant species in interaction with pollinators has rarely been investigated. We sampled 870 vegetation plots in the western Swiss Alps and classified the plant species into seven blossom types according to their floral morphology (wind, disk, funnel, tube, bilabiate, head or brush). We investigated the environmental features of plots with functional diversity (FD) lower than expected by chance alone to detect potential pollination filtering and related the proportions of the seven blossom types to a combination of environmental descriptors. From these results, we inferred the potential effect of the pollinator on the spatial distribution of plant species. The vegetation plots with significantly lower FD of blossom types than expected by chance were found at higher altitudes, and the proportions of blossom types were strongly patterned along the same gradient. These results support a biotic filtering effect on plant species assemblages through pollination: disk blossoms became dominant at higher altitudes, resulting in a lower FD. In harsh conditions at high altitudes, pollinators usually decrease in activity, and the openness of the disk blossom grants access to any available pollinator. Inversely, bilabiate blossoms, which are mostly pollinated by bees, were more abundant at lower elevations, which are characterised by greater abundance and diversity of bees. Generalisation through openness of the blossom could be advantageous at high elevations, while specialisation could be a successful alternative strategy at lower elevations. The approach used in this study is purely correlative, and further investigations should be conducted to infer the nature of the causal relationship between plant and pollinator distributions.