Temperature-driven flower longevity in a high-alpine species of Oxalis influences reproductive assurance

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Summary

  • How high-alpine plants confront stochastic conditions for animal pollination is a critical question. We investigated the effect of temperature on potential flower longevity (FL) measured in pollinator-excluded flowers and actual FL measured in pollinated flowers in self-incompatible Oxalis compacta and evaluated if plastically prolonged potential FL can ameliorate slow pollination under cool conditions.
  • Pollinator-excluded and hand-pollinated flowers were experimentally warmed with open-top chambers (OTCs) on a site at 3470 m above sea level (asl). Flower-specific temperatures, and pollinator-excluded and open-pollination flower life-spans were measured at six alpine sites between 3100 and 3470 m asl. Fruit set was analyzed in relation to inferred pollination time.
  • Warming reduced potential FL. Variable thermal conditions across the alpine landscape predicted potential and actual FL; flower senescence was pollination-regulated. Actual FL and potential FL were coupled. Prolonged potential FL generally increased fruit set under cooler conditions.
  • Plastic responses permit virgin flowers of O. compacta to remain open longer under cooler temperatures, thereby ameliorating slow pollination, and to close earlier when pollination tends to be faster under warmer conditions. Plastic potential FL provides adaptive advantages in the cold, thermally variable alpine habitat, and has important implications for reproductive success in alpine plants in a warming world.

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