Flowering plants in Australia have been geographically isolated for more than 34 million years. In the Northern Hemisphere, previous work has revealed a close fit between the optimal discrimination capabilities of hymenopteran pollinators and the flower colours that have most frequently evolved. We collected spectral data from 111 Australian native flowers and tested signal appearance considering the colour discrimination capabilities of potentially important pollinators. The highest frequency of flower reflectance curves is consistent with data reported for the Northern Hemisphere. The subsequent mapping of Australian flower reflectances into a bee colour space reveals a very similar distribution of flower colour evolution to the Northern Hemisphere. Thus, flowering plants in Australia are likely to have independently evolved spectral signals that maximize colour discrimination by hymenoptera. Moreover, we found that the degree of variability in flower coloration for particular angiosperm species matched the range of reflectance colours that can only be discriminated by bees that have experienced differential conditioning. This observation suggests a requirement for plasticity in the nervous systems of pollinators to allow generalization of flowers of the same species while overcoming the possible presence of non-rewarding flower mimics.
- Received April 12, 2012.
- Accepted May 14, 2012.
- This journal is © 2012 The Royal Society