The artifice of flowers: Linking pollinator behaviour and floral evolution


The artifice of flowers: Linking pollinator behaviour and floral evolution

Agar Theatre
Agar Theatre


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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
    Dr Michael Whitehead, Faculty of Science