Unexpectedly low paternal diversity is associated with infrequent pollinator visitation for a bird-pollinated plant

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Title





School of Science




Kestel, J. H., Phillips, R. D., Anthony, J., Davis, R. A., & Krauss, S. L. (2021). Unexpectedly low paternal diversity is associated with infrequent pollinator visitation for a bird-pollinated plant. Oecologia, 196(4), 937-950.



The behaviour of pollinators has important consequences for plant mating. Nectar-feeding birds often display behaviour that results in more pollen carryover than insect pollinators, which is predicted to result in frequent outcrossing and high paternal diversity for bird-pollinated plants. We tested this prediction by quantifying mating system parameters and bird visitation in three populations of an understory bird-pollinated herb, Anigozanthos humilis (Haemodoraceae). Microsatellite markers were used to genotype 131 adult plants, and 211 seeds from 23 maternal plants, from three populations. While outcrossing rates were high, estimates of paternal diversity were surprisingly low compared with other bird-pollinated plants. Despite nectar-feeding birds being common at the study sites, visits to A. humilis flowers were infrequent (62 visits over 21,552 recording hours from motion-triggered cameras, or equivalent to one visit per flower every 10 days), and the majority (76%) were by a single species, the western spinebill Acanthorhynchus superciliosus (Meliphagidae). Pollen counts from 30 captured honeyeaters revealed that A. humilis comprised just 0.3% of the total pollen load. For 10 western spinebills, A. humilis pollen comprised only 4.1% of the pollen load, which equated to an average of 3.9 A. humilis pollen grains per bird. Taken together, our findings suggest that low visitation rates and low pollen loads of floral visitors have led to the low paternal diversity observed in this understory bird-pollinated herb. As such, we shed new light on the conditions that can lead to departures from high paternal diversity for plants competing for the pollination services of generalist nectar-feeding birds.



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