Shades of red: bird-pollinated flowers target the specific colour discrimination abilities of avian vision


Author for correspondence:

Mani Shrestha

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  • Colour signals are a major cue in putative pollination syndromes. There is evidence that the reflectance spectra of many flowers target the distinctive visual discrimination abilities of hymenopteran insects, but far less is known about bird-pollinated flowers. Birds are hypothesized to exert different selective pressures on floral colour compared with hymenopterans because of differences in their visual systems.
  • We measured the floral reflectance spectra of 206 Australian angiosperm species whose floral visitors are known from direct observation rather than inferred from floral characteristics. We quantified the match between these spectra and the hue discrimination abilities of hymenopteran and avian vision, and analysed these metrics in a phylogenetically informed comparison of flowers in different pollination groups.
  • We show that bird-visited flowers and insect-visited flowers differ significantly from each other in the chromatic cues they provide, and that the differences are concentrated near wavelengths of optimal colour discrimination by whichever class of pollinator visits the flowers.
  • Our results indicate that angiosperms have evolved the spectral signals most likely to reinforce their pollinators' floral constancy (the tendency of individual pollinators to visit flowers of the same species) in communities of similarly coloured floral competitors.