Royal Society Publishing

Floral colour diversity in plant communities, bee colour space and a null model

A. Gumbert, J. Kunze, L. Chittka


Evolutionary biologists have long hypothesized that the diversity of flower colours we see is in part a strategy to promote memorization by pollinators, pollinator constancy, and therefore, a directed and efficient pollen transfer between plants. However, this hypothesis has never been tested against a biologically realistic null model, nor were colours assessed in the way pollinators see them. Our intent here is to fill these gaps. Throughout one year, we sampled floral species compositions at five ecologically distinct sites near Berlin, Germany. Bee–subjective colours were quantified for all 168 species. A model of colour vision was used to predict how similar the colours of sympatric and simultaneously blooming flowers were for bees. We then compared flower colour differences in the real habitats with those of random plant communities. We did not find pronounced deviations from chance when we considered common plants. When we examined rare plants, however, we found significant divergence in two of the five plant communities. At one site, similarly coloured species were found to be more frequent than expected, and at the other two locations, flower colours were indistinguishable from a random distribution. These results fit theoretical considerations that rare plants are under stronger selective pressure to secure pollination than common plants. Our study illustrates the power of linking such distinct biological traditions as community ecology and the neuroethology of bee vision.

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