Macroecological patterns in flower colour are shaped by both biotic and abiotic factors

Rhiannon L. Dalrymple*, Darrell J. Kemp, Habacuc Flores-Moreno, Shawn W. Laffan, Thomas E. White, Frank A. Hemmings, Angela T. Moles

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


There is a wealth of research on the way interactions with pollinators shape flower traits. However, we have much more to learn about influences of the abiotic environment on flower colour. 

We combine quantitative flower colour data for 339 species from a broad spatial range covering tropical, temperate, arid, montane and coastal environments from 9.25ºS to 43.75ºS with 11 environmental variables to test hypotheses about how macroecological patterns in flower colouration relate to biotic and abiotic conditions. 

Both biotic community and abiotic conditions are important in explaining variation of flower colour traits on a broad scale. The diversity of pollinating insects and the plant community have the highest predictive power for flower colouration, followed by mean annual precipitation and solar radiation. On average, flower colours are more chromatic where there are fewer pollinators, solar radiation is high, precipitation and net primary production are low, and growing seasons are short, providing support for the hypothesis that higher chromatic contrast of flower colours may be related to stressful conditions. 

To fully understand the ecology and evolution of flower colour, we should incorporate the broad selective context that plants experience into research, rather than focusing primarily on effects of plant–pollinator interactions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1972-1985
Number of pages14
JournalNew Phytologist
Issue number6
Early online date13 Jun 2020
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020


  • colour
  • diversity
  • flower
  • pollinator
  • precipitation
  • productivity
  • resource availability
  • solar radiation


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