The artifice of flowers: Linking pollinator behaviour and floral evolution
The majority of flowering plants engage animals to carry out the essential service of pollination. Through mate-selection, the behaviour of animals therefore exerts a profound influence on the evolution of flowers. In this seminar I discuss the consequences of animal behaviour for pollination and floral evolution in two unique systems. Sexually deceptive orchids attract mate-seeking wasps through a precise chemical mimicry of female wasp sex pheromones. Combining population genetics and studies of wasp behaviour I show that exploitation of mate-seeking behaviour provides a solution to the problem flowers face of simultaneously attracting pollinators and persuading them to leave quickly. I also demonstrate how this pollination system can promote the generation of biodiversity.
While plants rely on animals for mating, some pollinators in turn rely on plants for food. A foraging pollinator's cognition and perception are therefore honed by a combination of learning and evolution to optimally exploit the resources provided by flowers. The remarkable long-tongue fly is a keystone South African pollinator and provides an empirical system to test the influence of floral communities on pollinator visual ecology.
Finally, I will introduce my current study now underway with the University of Melbourne, which seeks to uncover general patterns of plant gene flow under contrasting pollinator faunas.
Dr Michael Whitehead, Faculty of Science