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Keywords:

  • colour;
  • community;
  • flower;
  • fruit;
  • mutualism;
  • pollination;
  • seed dispersal;
  • stimulation landscape

Summary

  • Communication in plant–animal mutualisms frequently involves multiple perceivers. A fundamental uncertainty is whether and how species adapt to communicate with groups of mutualists having distinct sensory abilities.
  • We quantified the colour conspicuousness of flowers and fruits originating from one European and two South American plant communities, using visual models of pollinators (bee and fly) and seed dispersers (bird, primate and marten).
  • We show that flowers are more conspicuous than fruits to pollinators, and the reverse to seed dispersers. In addition, flowers are more conspicuous to pollinators than to seed dispersers and the reverse for fruits. Thus, despite marked differences in the visual systems of mutualists, flower and fruit colours have evolved to attract multiple, distinct mutualists but not unintended perceivers. We show that this adaptation is facilitated by a limited correlation between flower and fruit colours, and by the fact that colour signals as coded at the photoreceptor level are more similar within than between functional groups (pollinators and seed dispersers).
  • Overall, these results provide the first quantitative demonstration that flower and fruit colours are adaptations allowing plants to communicate simultaneously with distinct groups of mutualists.