Selection on quantitative colour variation in Centaurea cyanus: the role of the pollinator's visual system

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Abstract

Even though the importance of selection for trait evolution is well established, we still lack a functional understanding of the mechanisms underlying phenotypic selection. Because animals necessarily use their sensory system to perceive phenotypic traits, the model of sensory bias assumes that sensory systems are the main determinant of signal evolution. Yet, it has remained poorly known how sensory systems contribute to shaping the fitness surface of selected individuals. In a greenhouse experiment, we quantified the strength and direction of selection on floral coloration in a population of cornflowers exposed to bumblebees as unique pollinators during 4 days. We detected significant selection on the chromatic and achromatic (brightness) components of floral coloration. We then studied whether these patterns of selection are explicable by accounting for the visual system of the pollinators. Using data on bumblebee colour vision, we first showed that bumblebees should discriminate among quantitative colour variants. The observed selection was then compared to the selection predicted by psychophysical models of bumblebee colour vision. The achromatic but not the chromatic channel of the bumblebee's visual system could explain the observed pattern of selection. These results highlight that (i) pollinators can select quantitative variation in floral coloration and could thus account for a gradual evolution of flower coloration, and (ii) stimulation of the visual system represents, at least partly, a functional mechanism potentially explaining pollinators' selection on floral colour variants.

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