Pollinator recognition by a keystone tropical plant

Pollinator recognition by a keystone tropical plant


The evolution of flowering plants is complex and has resulted in a great amount of diversity in species both genetically and structurally. Pollination is the key to providing this variability and is responsible for evolutionary patterns and trends in flowering plant species. Some flowering plants are generalists, allowing for many types of pollinators to visit, while others are highly specified. The mechanism for this specialization is not well understood.

Goals and Methods

The authors conduct a series of experiments between the species Heliconia tortuosa and hummingbirds in Costa Rica to better understand the mechanism of plant-pollinator selection and coevolution. The authors hand pollinate one group of plants as a control and then record hummingbird visits to flowers. Birds are captured, banded, identified, and recorded over the course of the experiment with regular testing of the pollen they carry. Pollen tube growth in the study plants is measured for signs of species recognition or rejection.

Conclusions and Takeaways

Plant-pollinator recognition is present in H. tortuosa. This plant is capable of differentiating morphologically specialized hummingbird species from other generalist bird species. Pollinator recognition and hummingbird morphological adaptations signify that there may be benefits to recognition including higher quality pollen production and hummingbird mate selection.


Betts MG, Hadley AS, W. Kress J. Pollinator recognition by a keystone tropical plantSignificance. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 2015;112(11):3433 - 3438. doi:10.1073/pnas.1419522112.